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Missionary moments: Midnight knock

The midnight knock on the door to evacuate the trailer park didn't come as a total surprise. Still, it was unsettling.

The 22 senior missionary couples who live in their trailers while serving at the Church's Cove Fort Historic Site in south central Utah knew that a wildfire started by lightning on July 6 raged in the nearby hills.

So when the call came, they hitched their trailers and drove to safety in Beaver, Utah.

Winds had shifted by the next morning, prompting fire officials to allow missionaries and visitors to return.

"But don't unhook the trailers," warned Elder Kent Jones, director of the Cove Fort Historic Site, as missionaries returned to the trailer park located about 1 1/2 miles from the fort.

That afternoon thick black clouds suddenly swept over the fort. An unnerving eeriness followed. Missionaries and a half-dozen visitors were quickly evacuated.

"We saw a fire ball from the west," said Elder Hugh Erwin. "Those near their trailers drove away. Smoke was thick, making it as dark as midnight as we drove out of the trailer park. All we could see were the tail lights of the trailer ahead of us."

Flames engulfed both sides of the road as missionaries drove along a cow trail of a back road.

"The heat was intense," said Elder Erwin, "like a blow torch. I worked as a firefighter in Phoenix for 10 years. This was the worst situation I've ever been in."

Missionaries, who were unable to evacuate their trailers, feared they'd lost everything. But when they returned, "there wasn't even a smudge of damage," said Elder Jones.

Miraculously, say missionaries, the fire did not harm Church property. For no apparent reason, the fire abruptly stopped about 150 feet from the fort, even though the same dry grasses line the area.

At the trailer park, the fire unexpectedly divided and burned around the trailers.

"We believe it is in response to President Gordon B. Hinckley's dedicatory prayer when he blessed the safety of the fort and the missionaries." — Shaun D. Stahle

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