FOUNTAIN GREEN — The heat rippled in waves over the dry fields of cheatgrass, as huge columns of black and gray smoke churned into the sky.

Larry and Bonnie Nicol stood here on state Route 132, watching nervously as the Salt Creek fire moved dangerously close to their home.

"Everything we have is up there," Bonnie Nicol said, nodding at the wildfire. "We've got the clothes on our backs and the medicine I took in my purse. That's it. That's all we've got."

The Nicols story echoed those of other evacuees, both near the Salt Creek fire and elsewhere in the state. As of Friday evening, there were 10 fires burning across the state, almost half of which forced evacuations of homes, cabins and campgrounds.

All day Friday, evacuees gathered near a big "Road Closed" sign placed in the middle of S.R. 132, sharing stories of their escapes from the fire or any news of the inferno's progress.

The fire is zero percent contained.

"Oh my gosh!" Manavee Jeffery gasped as she watched the fire find new fuels, churning up more dark smoke and bright orange flames,

visible from miles away.

The Salt Creek fire has burned more than 15,109 acres of ponderosa pine, pinyon, juniper, sagebrush and dry grass in Nephi Canyon.

Authorities are investigating reports a vehicle's brake pads sparked as it went down S.R. 132, igniting the wildfire in dry grasses.

From there, the fire, which started Thursday, took off.

"We were told to get out of there fast," said Jeffery. "It was scary."

She described fast-moving flames that jumped the road, heading toward her trailer in the Camperworld campground up Nephi Canyon.

"We had to get our medication out, some of our clothes and our laptop," she said. "I had some genealogical stuff that I didn't want to lose."

Devastation

The fire left a haphazard pattern of destruction in its wake.

At the Camperworld campground, an office, trucks and RVs were destroyed. Nearby, other camper trailers, sheds and other structures were untouched.

Small fires continued to burn in the campground, the result of propane tanks that had caught fire, authorities said.

"I really hate seeing structures burn down," said firefighter Terry Krinko. "That's somebody's livelihood. It's everything."

Along S.R. 132, which remained closed into this morning, some areas had burned completely. Red dirt was covered by ash. In other places, a tree here and there had been torched. Bushes were burned on top; their bases green and flowering.

An entire hayfield was spared near Camperworld, even though the surrounding hills were decimated.

Firefighters needed

Fire officials have thrown everything they have at this blaze, trying to protect cabins, trailers, campgrounds and other structures in the canyon.

"The main emphasis is structure protection," said Bert Hart with the Richfield Interagency Fire Center.

More than 150 fire personnel are working this fire. Air tankers and a helicopter flew over the Holiday Oaks subdivision on Friday afternoon, making drops of water and retardant, trying desperately to protect the homes there from burning. So far, as of late Friday, they have been spared.

A fire crew from Juab County kept watch over a lone cabin as flames 60 feet high overtook a crevice in the canyon.

"It can get pretty intense," said firefighter Chris Lewis.

Firefighters are complaining they don't have sufficient resources to knock down the blaze. All of the fire crews are busy fighting other fires in Utah and elsewhere.

"All of the orders for additional crews, we haven't been able to fill at all," said Loyal Clark with the Uinta National Forest.

The Salt Creek fire has been declared a national priority wildfire and a Type I team has been ordered to help manage the massive firefighting effort. A Type I team brings with it more resources.

However, there are so many fires burning in the western United States, it won't be until 10 tonight that the team is expected to arrive — from Florida.

"That's the nearest available team," Clark said Friday. "All the others are committed to other fires."

Evacuation standby

In a campground on the ridge overlooking the tiny Sanpete County town of Indianola, people were told to get out as the fire moved quickly toward them.

Tents and trailers were abandoned in their pads, leaving an eerie, deserted feeling to the place.

"They're not letting anybody in. The roads are closed," said Tom Willis, who brought his trailer out of the mountain area Friday morning. "It's worrisome."

Along a dirt road in Indianola, more than a dozen trailers were parked in a line. They were dragged off the mountain in a hurry as the fire got too close for comfort.

Winds helped push the fire closer toward Fountain Green and Indianola. Local authorities have put residents on notice that they should prepare to be evacuated, should the fire move closer.

"It's all dependent on the weather," Clark said.

While the Salt Creek fire is threatening the most homes, there are other fires threatening towns, including one that started Friday in Box Elder County.

That fire, called the Dairy Valley fire, was started by lightning in the northwestern corner of the county, near the town of Grouse Creek. Multiple homes are threatened and the fire has burned more than 800 acres, although no evacuations have been ordered, according to Erin Darboven with the BLM.

Other fires still being battled include:

• Two fires are burning in Tooele County. The Kimball fire has burned more than 7,500 acres and is only 20 percent contained in the Stansbury Mountains west of Grantsville, and forced the closure of state Route 138 for much of Friday. The Monarch fire, which is 50 percent contained, has burned more than 24,000 acres in the northern Lakeside Mountains.

• The Dakota Complex, which is actually two fires, has burned almost 8,000 acres east of Zion National Park and has forced the postponement of the annual Kolob Days celebration.

• The Paradise fire west of Beryl has destroyed three buildings and is threatening many others. The Hamlin Valley has been evacuated.

There may be some relief for firefighters this weekend. Thunderstorms are predicted to move across southern and eastern Utah today. On Sunday, the thunderstorms are expected to increase across Utah, bringing with them a stronger chance of rain.

"That'll cool us off a tad and bring our humidity up," said meteorologist Alex Tardy. "We'll lose a lot of wind that's been driving these fires."

Of course, the storms also bring lightning and the threat of more wildfires.




E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com; rpalmer@desnews.com