It was at 1:16 p.m. on Aug. 14 when the Park City Fire District was sent onto Interstate 80, toward Parleys Canyon and the border between Summit County and Salt Lake County.
The report involved a brush fire, described as small at that moment. To the Fire District it was a routine sort of report, the agency said on Thursday during a presentation to Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council. There are numerous small fires each year like what was indicated on Aug. 14, the Fire District said. This one, though, would quickly become the raging Parleys Canyon Fire.
Peter Emery, the deputy chief with the Fire District, provided a detailed rundown of the first hours of the emergency response to the blaze. The Parleys Canyon Fire ultimately charred 541 acres, climbing up from the interstate and forcing evacuations from parts of the Snyderville Basin. The giant smoke plume was visible for miles in one of the most dramatic fires in the Park City area in decades.
The appearance of Emery at the City Council meeting, held virtually as leaders continue to attempt to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, was designed to be informational in nature. Neither the Fire District nor City Hall appeared prepared to hold a detailed debriefing on Thursday, but the discussion likely indicated government leaders in the area will continue to address lessons from the blaze for some time.
The timeline presented by Emery was especially intriguing as he covered the step-by-step response. The Fire District as part of the initial dispatch sent three engines, a truck designed to fight brush fires, a battalion chief vehicle and a water tender, which transports water to a fire scene. The Unified Fire Authority in the Salt Lake Valley sent four engines and a battalion chief vehicle at about the same time.
The elected officials were told the battalion chief from the Fire District, who was driving on the interstate, reported a fire of upward of 10 acres, with the flames reaching 30 feet into the air. The battalion chief requested firefighting air support “for a fast-moving fire headed towards Summit Park,” a slide shown on Thursday said.
Some of the other parts of the timeline presented to the elected officials included:
• at 1:26 p.m., which was 10 minutes after the first report of the fire, firefighting resources from outside of the local agency were committed. The resources included a helicopter, two air tankers and three fire engines from the U.S. Forest Service.
• at 1:31 p.m. a Fire District battalion chief arrived and reported there were two fires within 1/2 of a mile of each other. The battalion chief coordinated “PCFD crews to begin an offensive fire attack on the east fire closest to Summit Park and has Unified Fire Authority attack the fire to the west,” the timeline said.
• within 30 minutes, the fire grew quickly, to between 50 acres and 100 acres, and the two fires merged into one moving in the direction of Summit Park. “PCFD crews are no longer able to reach the fire from I-80 and begin moving into Summit Park for structure protection,” according to the timeline.
• at 2 p.m., the command and control of the air response indicated more than 1,000 residences were at risk and within 1/2 of a mile from the fire.
• at 2:12 p.m., four air tankers from Colorado, Idaho and elsewhere in the West, under the control of the federal government, were ordered to the scene. They refueled and fire retardant was loaded at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. At the same time an evacuation order was given in Summit Park, with more than 90% of the people abiding by the order.
• at 3:30 p.m., an evacuation order was given in Pinebrook. A “strike team” of five engines was called for from the Salt Lake Valley.
• by 4 p.m., “most of the fire is only reachable by air.” The timeline indicated “an aggressive air campaign is waged during daylight hours.”
The firefighting efforts coupled with precipitation stopped the spread. The fire was essentially contained after six days and was ultimately extinguished.
“It was extremely close,” Emery said in his remarks to the mayor and City Council.
The elected officials did not hold an extensive discussion but appeared grateful for the firefighting efforts. They mentioned the importance of collaboration and coordination in the response to the fire.