Rockport residents return to charred neighborhood
North Summit Fire Chief Ken Smith and Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer were on hand to welcome residents home Monday morning after a lightning-caused wildfire tore through their neighborhood last week. About 250 people were evacuated from Rockport Estates, Rockport Ranches and Bridge Hollow when the fire erupted Tuesday, Aug. 16. Some had been allowed to return Friday, but due to ongoing wind-driven flare-ups and other safety concerns, many homeowners had to wait through the weekend.
The fire burned nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed eight homes along with scores of outbuildings, sheds and vehicles. But, Monday local and interagency firefighters from around the West said they were confident they had gained the upper hand. According to Boyer, by Sunday night the fire was 90 percent contained with only scattered hot spots in a few remote spots between Rockport Ranches and Promontory.
Nevertheless, Boyer said fire crews would continue to rove through the neighborhoods for another two nights to respond to any neighborhood concerns.
"We are here to give residents’ peace of mind and to impart a level of confidence so they feel safe," he said.
Speaking for North Summit’s all-volunteer fire department, Chief Smith said, "We were the first on the scene and we will be the last to leave."
Boyer said he was especially pleased to report there had been no injuries not to residents, firefighters or any of the support teams who had been on scene. Rockport Estates manager Alan Lindsley nodded in agreement adding, "And no pet problems, even the chickens, the goats and the pigs."
Lindsley did say that water and electricity was not yet completely restored. He said some of Rocky Mountain Power’s pedestals had been damaged and, in some places the fire had caused water meters to melt.
One of the evacuees waiting to drive through the gate on Monday was Andy Varner who was fishing on Rockport Reservoir when he saw the lightning bolt that ignited the blaze.
"It was real scary. We called 911 but by the time we got there we couldn’t get in."
On Monday he admitted to a mix of emotions. "We are fine. Our house is fine. But honestly today is bittersweet. Lots of us have our homes but some of us don’t."
Nachi Fairbanks was also anxious to get back home. She was working in Salt Lake City when neighbors began calling her cell phone with news of the fire. She said a neighbor rescued her dog and her house, miraculously, was unscathed.
Fairbanks said she sits on the neighborhood association board and anticipated they would be convening an emergency meeting, not only to deal with cleanup issues, but to talk about ways to thank the firefighters and to help those who had lost their houses.
Residents in the burned out area still face a tough task cleaning up ash, assessing damage to utilities and restoring the landscape. They will get some help from a $500,000 Emergency Watershed Protection grant to address potential concerns about mudslides and flooding due to the loss of vegetation on the hillsides.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.