‘Like domi­noes’

Utah homes burn as wild­fires men­ace U.S. West

Yuma Sun - - OPINION -

DEN­VER — A fast-mov­ing brush fire de­stroyed eight homes in the Utah tourist town of Moab, while more than 3,000 peo­ple in Colorado and Wy­oming fled mul­ti­ple wild­fires scorch­ing the drought-stricken U.S. West on Wed­nes­day.

The blaze in Moab, known for its dra­matic red rocks, started in a wooded area Tues­day night and quickly spread to homes over less than a square mile (kilo­me­ter), Po­lice Chief Jim Win­der said. Crews were ex­tin­guish­ing em­bers Wed­nes­day.

Moab res­i­dents Tim Clark and his girl­friend Tina Saun­ders grabbed their dogs, fam­ily photos and a lap­top, evac­u­at­ing with their home in flames.

“Those houses just started go­ing like domi­noes,” Clark told the Salt Lake Tri­bune. “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Po­lice said the early in­ves­ti­ga­tion has ruled out nat­u­ral causes for the blaze that ig­nited near a creek that is frequently used as a walk­way in a largely blue-col­lar neigh­bor­hood. It was not near the tourist-heavy ar­eas in the town known for its prox­im­ity to Arches and Cany­on­lands na­tional parks.

Moab res­i­dent Shane Tan­gren told the news­pa­per that he ar­rived home from work Tues­day evening to find flames nearby. He was try­ing to pro­tect the house he’s lived in since he was 16 by wet­ting it down, but the wind shifted and sent the flames bar­rel­ing right to­ward him. He fled.

“I sat there and watched it burn to the ground,” Tan­gren, 55, told the news­pa­per. “Ev­ery­thing — pho­to­graphs, birth cer­tifi­cates, mem­o­ries — it’s all gone. My first car — that was a 1970 (Pon­tiac) GTO. Up in flames. I bought it when I was 15.”

In Colorado’s moun­tains, res­i­dents have evac­u­ated more than 1,300 houses — con­dos, apart­ments and pricey homes — as flames threat­ened an area known for its ski re­sorts. Fire­fight­ers, with help from air­craft, got a quick jump on a fire near Sil­ver­thorne af­ter it was re­ported Tues­day and have man­aged to keep it from spread­ing be­yond about 91 acres in heavy tim­ber, in­clud­ing trees killed by pine bee­tles.

Sum­mit Fire Chief Jeff Berino said Wed­nes­day night that light­ning did not play a role in the fire and that “some type of hu­man el­e­ment is prob­a­bly likely” as a cause.

Across the state, Colorado’s largest fire has burned about 43 square miles over nearly two weeks. Res­i­dents could go back to about 180 homes no longer threat­ened at the north­ern edge of the fire Wed­nes­day, but oth­ers re­mained out of more than 1,900 houses.

The blaze about 13 miles north of Du­rango is in the Four Cor­ners re­gion where Colorado, New Mex­ico, Ari­zona and Utah meet and which is in the mid­dle of a large swath of ex­cep­tional drought. Much of the U.S. West is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some level of drought.

Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper said the rapid re­sponse from emer­gency crews has helped pre­vent a re­peat of dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires in 2012 and 2013. Years ago, he said fire de­part­ments were hes­i­tant to com­mit re­sources to fight­ing ev­ery fire, and launch­ing a co­or­di­nated re­sponse to a ma­jor blaze could take up to two days.

Hick­en­looper said bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion has cut down on de­lays, and the state re­im­burses lo­cal de­part­ments for ini­tial re­sponse costs, in an at­tempt to con­trol a blaze be­fore it can spread.

“We learned a lot from the dis­as­ters, the fires we had in 2012 and 2013,” Hick­en­looper told re­porters.

Mean­while, a wild­fire in Wy­oming’s Medicine Bow Na­tional For­est dou­bled in size over 24 hours, burn­ing about 8 square miles (21 square kilo­me­ters). Nearly 400 sea­sonal and per­ma­nent homes have been evac­u­ated be­cause of the fire near the Colorado border.

RICK EGAN/THE SALT LAKE TRI­BUNE VIA AP

FIRE IN­VES­TI­GA­TORS WALK AMONG the prop­erty de­stroyed by the fire near Pack Creek, in Moab, Utah, on Wed­nes­day. A fast-mov­ing brush fire de­stroyed eight homes in the Utah tourist town of Moab, while more than 3,000 peo­ple in Colorado and Wy­oming fled...

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