Car-ignited wildfire burns 4 Utah homes

Darlene Bennett watches from her deck north of Fairview, Utah, as a helicopter dips a bucket into her pond as it battles the Wood Hollow Fire. Bennett was evacuated earlier along with residents of Fairview. She returned to the house and was allowed to stay because firefighters felt she was in a safe location. Helicopters could douse her house if flames got too close. Enlarge photo

Paul Fraughton/Associated Press

Darlene Bennett watches from her deck north of Fairview, Utah, as a helicopter dips a bucket into her pond as it battles the Wood Hollow Fire. Bennett was evacuated earlier along with residents of Fairview. She returned to the house and was allowed to stay because firefighters felt she was in a safe location. Helicopters could douse her house if flames got too close.

SALT LAKE CITY – The wildfire that swept through a foothills community southwest of Salt Lake City started when a homeowner parked his car on dry grass, a fire chief said Sunday.

The man’s house was spared as four others were destroyed, said Unified Fire Authority Fire Chief Michael Jensen. The fire destroyed or damaged 13 other structures Friday in a subdivision of Herriman.

“The car-ignited cheat grass and weeds and when the winds picked up, the fire took off running,” Jensen said Sunday. “It was a recipe for that fire to take off and spread like crazy.”

It took dozens of fire engines and several helicopters and air tankers to save the neighborhood in a drama that played for hours on live television late Friday. Crews chased the fire onto tinder-dry public lands above Herriman, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.

The 660-acre Rose Crest fire was 65 percent contained Sunday with hot spots that will keep crews busy for days, he said.

An evacuation order was lifted late Saturday. For some Herriman residents, it was the second evacuation since September 2010, when machine-gun training over the hills at Camp Williams ignited a 4,300-acre blaze that leveled three houses.

“We knew the Machine Gun Fire was coming and had a few hours to position crews and get resources there,” Jensen said. “This one was different because it started right in the middle of a developed area and spread fast.”

The driver parked his car across the street from his house. His house was not in danger, Jensen said. Investigators are piecing together a full account of the fire sparked by the car’s hot exhaust parts, Jensen said.

No injuries were reported to firefighters or civilians, although two men got kicked by horses they were trying to round up, Jensen said.

Rocky Mountain Power restored service to all but eight of 324 homes in Herriman by late Saturday.

Elsewhere in Utah, the state’s largest wildfire has consumed more than 150 square miles, destroying one summer house and threatening 75 others.

Hundreds of firefighters are trying to keep the Clay Springs Fire from advancing on the ranching towns of Scipio and Mills on the edge of Utah’s west desert.

The fire was 48 percent contained on Sunday, but fire managers say flames are showing “extreme resistance” to control under strong winds. The fire grew by about 18 square miles Saturday.

About 70 miles south of Salt Lake City, an evacuation order was lifted for Indianola, allowing residents to return to the rubble of 52 houses in the hills west of Utah’s scenic Route 89, as the Wood Hollow Fire neared full containment.

Gabe Payne choked up over the ashes of the cabin he and his wife built several years ago. “It was all tongue and groove inside. It was really nice,” he told The Deseret News of Salt Lake City. “I thought we were on another planet, like Mars or something. I mean there’s just nothing left – nothing green – it’s just burnt dirt.”

The 73-square-mile Wood Hollow Fire was blamed for the death of an Indianola-area man whose body was found last week near a burned home. Authorities haven’t identified the victim.