Parleys Canyon Fire evacuees return to homes: ‘I think we got really lucky’
‘We kept saying to one another, ‘They're going to hold the ridge. They're going to hold the ridge,’’ evacuee recalls
Both times Grace Torreano went into labor, she hiked up a particular fire road near her home in Summit Park, looking for a sliver of calm before leaving for the hospital.
“In a time of chaos, like going into labor, not knowing what’s happening, it was a place of peace,” she said.
She saw the fire road in an entirely different light as the Parleys Canyon Fire threatened her home.
“When we were watching the maps, seeing where the hotspots were — when you live there, you can pinpoint: I know where that is on the trail, I know where we bike there, I know where we hike,” she said. “That fire road, I labored with both my children up there.”
She and her family, who were visiting relatives out of state, were watching from afar as their friends helped with an “evacuation by FaceTime,” grabbing the items Torreano suggested and getting ready to leave the area while smoke billowed into the sky.
Imagining losing the home was hard, she said, but possessions can be replaced.
“Beyond just the things, the thought of Summit Park burning was a lot. A lot to process,” she said.
Days after the end of the evacuation order that forced residents of Summit Park, Timberline and Pinebrook from their homes, evacuees like Torreano described a harrowing few days and said they’re grateful for first responders’ efforts to keep their homes and neighborhoods safe.
Randi Kottler has lived in Summit Park for 20 years, long enough to remember a much briefer 2001 evacuation that was caused in almost the exact same way: a fire that sparked on Interstate 80 and rushed up toward the neighborhood.
“We were here for the last one,” she said.
She was also here for this one. She said she first noticed something was amiss around 2 p.m. Saturday.
“The lighting in the kitchen was a strange orange color,” she recalled. She went out onto the patio, where the color persisted and she saw smoke.
That’s when she went to find her husband, who was outside and had also seen the signs of fire.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh (shoot), it’s time,’” she said. “We’ve been waiting for this in Summit Park. We knew it was just a matter of time.”
Her husband began filling their motor home with water as she went around the house packing up essentials: important documents, sentimental items, clothes.
One thing she said she learned for next time is to have a list of what to take that also includes where those items are located to avoid rummaging around the house looking for them.
“The whole thing was very stressful,” she said.
She estimated it took about 35 minutes before she, her husband and daughter loaded up into vehicles and pulled away from their home. They went next to her mother-in-law’s house in Pinebrook, only to help her pack to evacuate within a few hours.
The family spent the majority of the next few days at Kottler’s mother’s house in the Salt Lake Valley.
Kottler said her feelings crystallized on Sunday when she and her husband returned briefly to their home to gather a few more items.
“When I was leaving then, I was thinking, ‘OK, that was the last time I’m going to see this house. I was — that was just my gut feeling, was that we we’re not going to be back in this house. It was sad. Kind of like a punch to the gut,” she said. “How can we be leaving? We lived in this house for 20 years, raised our kids in this house. Now it’s going to burn up.”
She recalled witnessing the storm front that arrived on Tuesday while the family was still evacuated.
“Being down in Salt Lake, being at my mom’s house, feeling the wind, every wind gust we feel is pushing that fire toward our house, is very stressful,” she said.
Bernadette Murphy, who is a recent transplant to Pinebrook, recalled fearing for her home as she waited out the evacuation.
“I’ve never lived in such a beautiful place in my whole life. I thought, ‘Oh God, I finally found the place I want to live. I hope I get to keep it,’” she said. “If it had burned, with the cost of real estate, there’s no way we could’ve stayed.”
Murphy and her husband packed up and left in about 15 minutes, she said, and some surprising items made the evacuation cut.
In addition to the legal documents and clothing, her husband had packed their climbing equipment while neglecting to bring underwear.
“It’s so funny, when we got to where we were staying — we stayed at a friend’s house in Bountiful — my husband asked, ‘Do you want to go to the climbing gym?’” she said.
Murphy, like Kottler and Torreano, indicated they moved to the area for the very landscape that made the Parley’s Canyon Fire such a threat to their homes. It’s a special neighborhood, they said, though the fire risk came as no shock.
“It’s something we think about, baked into the type of activities we do outside,” she said. “Where is the grill? We’re always very cautious about things like that. It’s on your mind. It’s especially been on our minds this summer because it’s dry, it’s a drought.”
Kottler put it more bluntly.
“Being here in Summit Park, again, I think we got really lucky,” she said. “I still think it’s just a matter of time before this neighborhood, unless something changes, this neighborhood is, sadly, going to burn.”
She, Murphy, Torreano and fellow evacuee Zach O’Brien all thanked the first responders and firefighters who helped guard their homes.
O’Brien said he noticed the smoke when he was on the way to his second job and was unable to grab things from his house. He returned the next day for a quick in-and-out to get valuable and sentimental items.
“I was a little bit scared. I was worried that, I mean, I couldn’t grab everything,” he said. “I was also just amazed how fast the firefighters were and how good they were at doing their job.”
Torreano offered “a million times thanks” to the first responders from Utah and elsewhere.
“I thought a lot about them trekking through that terrain, and it’s not easy and they have gear and they’re doing it to save homes,” she said. “… We’re so impressed with what they did. We kept saying to one another, ‘They’re going to hold the ridge. They’re going to hold the ridge.’”
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