UPDATE: Fire crews have Hilltop Fire
under control, say fire managers
at community meeting
By Suzanne Dean
MT. PLEASANT—The Hilltop Fire, which threatened hundreds of structures in the north end of Sanpete County, is pretty much under control, fire officials told attendees at the community gathering at North Sanpete High School Thursday night.
And federal, state and local fire managers gave a lot of credit to cooperation among various agencies and especially to Sanpete County firefighters.
“The footprint of this fire, in the location that it is, to be in the position we’re in with the limited amount of loss, is incredible,” Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson told the gathering.
He announced the fire was 60 percent contained and said as of 10 a.m. Friday, areas under mandatory evacuation orders, including parts of Millburn, Hideaway Valley and Blackhawk Estates, would drop back to “pre-evacuation status.”
That meant people could return to their homes, but needed to be ready to leave again, although re-evacuation didn’t appear likely.
In an interview following the meeting, the sheriff also said the Red Cross center at the Indianola LDS Ward would close Friday at noon.
In the interview, Nielson said he wouldn’t know for sure about losses for a couple more days, but based on what he knew, no homes had been lost. He said the only significant losses had been one accessory building and one sheep camp.
But he added, “There have been some amazing saves” of homes, particularly in Millburn.
Leading off the briefing of resident was Dave Vining, planning chief for the Great Basin Incident Team 4, a U.S. Forest Service fire fighting team of about 50 that took command of the Hilltop as well as Coal Hollow fires a couple of days ago.
“The Hilltop Fire currently has a fire line around the whole thing,” Vining said. “That doesn’t mean it’s out. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve got to mop it up, we’ve got to secure that line.”
Tim Roide, incident commander of the team, said the group had been working on a fire outside Reno, Nev. when they got the call on Tuesday to come to Utah. Their camp, including food and medical trailers, is set up across U.S. 89 from the Indianola Valley fire station.
“It’s been a really busy two days,” he said. The Coal Hollow Fire, which is mostly in the Manti-LaSal National Forest east of the junction of U.S. 6 and U.S. 89 in Utah County, has presented big challenges. But he said his group has had “a lot of success on Hilltop.”
“The local fire departments—the county, the state, with some federal assistance—did a fantastic job. And when we showed up, we just pretty much picked up where they left off and finished up. So good work, all of those individuals.”
He said cooperation among emergency managers from counties involved in the two fires, land management agencies and the communities “has just been phenomenal.”
“We travel all around the western United States, we do this for a living, and we see it (cooperation) frequently, but we don’t always see it, so you are fortunate to be in this community of genuinely good people working for common goals,” Roide said. “You should be proud of that.”
Nielson said three things contributed to fairly rapid containment of the Hilltop fire. First was work by Sanpete County Fire Warden Tom Peterson before the fire ever started to reduce the fuel load in the area. “As you drive up U.S. 89, (you see) some of the trees have been trimmed,” he said.
“We also had some divine intervention from Mother Nature,” the sheriff said. He referred to the fact that Tuesday about 2 a.m., winds died down significantly. Crews took a chance and instituted a “back burn” (where a controlled burn is set up to stop the advancement of a fire). That helped contain the blaze.
Finally, he joined in praising volunteer firefighters from towns in the county. “I just want to tell you how really fortunate we are in the county to have the fire agencies that we do,” he said. “…The initial attack—these guys who come in when the fire’s really kicking off and being active, saving homes, saving lives. It’s incredible. We have some of the best local fire resources anywhere.”