Fires force residents to evacuate homes

Some 200 residents of Terra were forced to evacuate their homes Saturday, July 2 as lightning-sparked fires moved toward this community of about 1,800 people. The fires began just after noon after two separate lightning strikes hit Bureau of Land Management land. The fires continued through the night before they were brought under control about mid-morning Sunday, July 3.

Volunteers from neighboring Dugway and Rush Valley joined residents of Terra and professional firefighters in saving homes and other property in the area.Terra is part of the Dugway Ward, Tooele Utah South Stake, some 85 miles west of Salt Lake City. The Dugway and Rush Valley ward meetinghouses, located about 20 miles apart, were designated as Red Cross emergency relief centers.

Soon after the fires started, power was lost at the Dugway Ward meetinghouse, which left the building without electricity as well as water, since the building has an electric water pump. The Red Cross established a relief center in the Rush Valley Ward meetinghouse only. Nevertheless, reported Bishop Bruce Evans, about 14 people who evacuated their homes stayed at the Dugway Ward meetinghouse overnight. Also a company of about 75 firefighters used the building for rest breaks. Meals for firefighters were provided by the ward's Relief Society.

The Dugway Ward meetinghouse, located just outside a gate to Dugway Proving Ground, was also used as a staging area and temporary headquarters by a Bureau of Land Management interagency fire team until headquarters could be established at Dugway.

The Rush Valley Ward meetinghouse, according to Bishop Lee Johnson, is the only building other than homes in Rush Valley, a community established in 1856 by Mormon settlers and which today has about 450 residents. The ward membership is about 300.

Within minutes after the fires were reported, leaders of the Tooele Utah South Stake and ward leaders began making phone calls, organizing volunteers from the wards to help fight the fire until enough trained fire crews arrived. Others were called upon to give support services.

Bishop Evans said because it was uncertain by what time the fires would be out, he canceled meetings Sunday morning and called for sacrament meeting to be held at 5 p.m.

"The attitudes of the people were great. A lot of people became crucially involved in fighting the fire. My first counselor, Dennis Patterson, was flying an army Huey helicopter most of the day Saturday to help provide command and control."

Severe winds Tuesday evening, July 5, rekindled the fire that forced Saturday's evacuation of Terra. The renewed flames burned mostly trees and brush. Residents of Terra were not evacuated a second time.

However, Tooele County deputy sheriffs ordered about 100 residents in Skull Valley to evacuate Tuesday night after three separate lightning strikes touched off fires in that area. Refuge was offered at the Grantsville Utah Stake center, but the evacuation order ended at 1 a.m. Wednesday, July 6, so the building was not needed.

Smoke from Tooele County drifted past the south end of the Great Salt Lake and into the Salt Lake Valley Tuesday evening.

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