SPANISH FORK Governor Gary Herbert said Saturday he hopes that the pair of forest fires that stifle the air with smoke can be stopped from destroying one of the nearly 2,000 homes evacuated in southern Utah County.
"We have reason to be hopeful, I feel better today than last night," the governor told reporters following a Blackhawk helicopter over the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires.
But despite his confidence in the plan to tackle the country's top two priorities, he said there were "no guarantees" that the fire department could stop the flames from reaching their homes.
"The best you can do is keep the line," Herbert said, noting that local fire departments have engines in place when the fire breaks through areas cleared by bulldozers for a barrier create.
Herbert also offered what he said was good news that the estimate of the actual area burned so far by the lightning fire was reduced from 68,000 to 60,000 acres.
But the governor said, "It's too early to say so," when the 6,000 residents of Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge, and other fire-prone areas are allowed to return home, meaning it could take at least 48 hours.
He encouraged Utah to help the displaced people out of their homes.
The Utah sheriff's office announced on Saturday afternoon that Diamond Fork Canyon and Sheep Creek were under a pre-eviction order and US 6 was closed at Spanish Fork Canyon.
On Saturday night, officials told an audience of concerned residents that 600 additional staff would come to help the 600 firefighters, but there is not really much that can be done to check the fire now.
"Our ability to get close and make the fire, especially at the northern end of the fire, where all communities are, was, well … it's very limited," said Evans Kuo, acting incident commander for Great Basin Team Five.
"We could try, we could get the people there, but most likely the fire would go straight over our lines and we would not be able to keep it in check."
He added, "I want to be brutally honest with you people … it worries us a lot."
Utah County Commission Vice-Chairman Bill Lee had strong words for federal authorities early this Saturday who, he said, were responsible for not controlling and controlling the fires.
"These cold fingerprints are everywhere in the federal government in this case, when it comes to this issue," said the commissioner and called for the time being "all hands on deck". "Let's put this fire out and turn this emergency over."
Lee said he sees the fires as a "crime scene" because there has been a mistake on our political level when it comes to our federal government. They knew the fire was up there. "
Still, the commissioner said, "They sweated for weeks before it was blown up, where is the responsibility?" He called for discussions by local, state and federal officials, "because it affects the lives of people here."
When asked about Lee's comments, the governor said there was no time to point fingers.
"At the time, I did not think anyone was sitting around doing anything," he said. The authorities, he said, were trying to convert the fire caused by the lightning into a prescribed burn to remove debris.
The focus must now be on the fire, said Herbert and promised, "then we can dissect until the cows come home."
He said he expects the fire will be an issue later this month with federal officials in Washington, D.C. meets.
"We will learn a lot," said the governor. "Mistakes may have been made."
The Utah State Forestry, Brian Cottam, said the fires were triggered by lightning on the grounds of the US Forest Service, which gave the federal authority the authority to handle them. Cottam said he was unfamiliar with the Agency's decisions.
But he agreed with the governor that questions about how the federal government should handle the situation should wait.
"Right now our firefighters are on the ground," Cottam said. "It's about the people who have been evacuated, it's about their safety and comfort, we need to focus on extinguishing that fire."
Lee describes pines that explode near huts in Loafer Canyon on Friday and said that with gusts of winds up to 50mph, the flames are likely to hit nearby communities.
"It's coming," Lee said.
The governor said the Emergency Declaration requested by Utah County was immediately implemented by the state to ensure that the area can receive government support.
For residents living in Elk Ridge, Woodland Hills, along US 89 from Nebo Creek to Thistle Junction, and in the Covered Bridge community near the mouth of the Spanish Fork Canyon, compulsory evacuations remain in place.
Closed are the canyons of Santaquin, Payson and Nephi, the Nebo Loop Road on State Route 132, the US 89 between Thistle Junction and the Sanpete County Line and the US 6 via the Spanish Fork Canyon.
Utah County Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Cannon said that it is important for people to stay away from these areas, even though the authorities are trying to accommodate people who need to return to their homes for critical needs such as getting medicines or pets.
Ralph Clegg, director of the Department of Health of Utah, warned of the dangers of smoke and advised residents to stay indoors as much as possible, especially those who are young, old or have lung problems.
Some outdoor recreational events have been canceled, including the city sponsored football matches in Sandy.
"We know that it's very unhealthy to stay out in the air longer and make sure that the health and safety of our participants, parents, coaches and staff is taken into account," says Sandy Parks and Recreation.
At the same press conference at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds, Task Force Commander Marty Adell said crews from all over the country are bringing helicopters, tankers and engines to fight the fires.
Adell said fire lines are set up to protect homes should winds drive the fire in that direction. It was fortunate, he said, that the strong winds predicted for Friday will fade and the fires are currently moving at a "relatively moderate pace".
Lee called the firefighting campaign "the white hats." They're here to help, that's the cavalry coming. "
For residents of Utah County who live near the fire, there is much uncertainty.
"At the moment, we can not see the flames because there's so much smoke, but we can really see them clearly at night," said Holly Beifuss, whose 23-acre property is just outside the Elk Ridge evacuation area. "We looked last night and saw it burn."
Mugwort said she chose to stay with the family's horses and mules while she waited for her husband to return from a hunting trip, but friends and family used tractors, lawn mowers and weed hunters to precautionarily clear the pasture.
"I have not felt so threatened," she said. "I just keep it in mind."
But she has sent away her daughter, son-in-law, and her young children who live in a house on the property because the smoke is too strong and they are "a bit nervous because children are here".
Jan Newman, president of the Elk Ridge Utah Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he and others are busy making sure that evacuees have a place to go.
"It's a bit stressful," said President Newman. "Everyone seems to be fine."
He said that twenty-four residents of Elk Ridge's Elderly Care Center have been moved to hotel rooms and hospital beds, while other residents of the community of around 4,000 are staying with people they know.
"It's just overwhelming to see how much love and empathy people have here in the community," he said. "We value all the thoughts and prayers for the people here."
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