Smoke. Fire. Forced Evacuation. Oh My!!!

So I’m going to do something today I don’t do very often.  Except for the fact that I’m writing this, there will be nothing else in here about writing at all.  But it is probably the most exciting, spectactular, amazing (pick an adjective) post I’ve ever done.

First, I want to paint you a picture.  For those of you who have never been to Salt Lake City, one, you should, and two, it’s a beautiful mountain valley.  If you stand in the middle you can look in any direction and see mountains.  In the very southwest corner of this valley, up on the foothills, about 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City, is a city called Herriman.  This is where I live.  Up until about ten years ago it wasn’t even an incorporated city, just a small collection of homes.  It’s grown a lot since then but it still has a rural-ish feel.  There is a lot of horse property and people live in the small canyons to the west.  It’s a great place to live.

Sunday afternoon about 3:30, my family and I went over to our church for a few minutes.  We noticed smoke from behind the foothills but didn’t think a whole lot of it.  We get small brush fires almost every year.  Some from lightning strikes, some from the National Guard munitions training ground that is just on the other side of the hills (close enough, however, that when they are blowing up big stuff, we can hear it).  A half our later when we left the church, the smoke had gotten a lot darker.  The fire had grown.  Even then, we didn’t really worry because, like I said, this has happened before.  In fact, six years ago, the summer we moved in, the ridgeline behind our home had flames creep over the side.

Anyways, we ate dinner and decided to go visit my parents.  They live about 25 minutes northeast of us.  We got in the car and noticed that the air really smelled like fire but all we could see at that point was smoke.  It had covered a good portion of the Salt Lake Valley because the winds were quite strong that day, but we couldn’t see any flames.  I remember making the comment to my husband that when the sun set we would probably be able to see a red glow on the horizon.  While we were at my parents, we learned that a neighborhood to our west had been evacuated.  First it was 100 homes, then 300 homes, then 400… (you get the idea).

We decided to head back home.  We wanted to get anything important.  Just in case.  When we got to a good vantage point, we didn’t just see smoke or a red glow on the horizon.  Instead, we saw this.

Now at this point we were texting back and forth with our next door neighbor.  So far, our neighborhood hadn’t been evacuated yet, but she said the flames were moving really fast down the foothills because of the winds.  At one point her text said “flames just took a huge jump down the hill.”

As we got closer the experience became more and more surreal.  You know those natural disaster movies where you see everyone fleeing but for some strange reason the mc’s in the movie are going back in.  Well, that’s a little bit how it felt.  We were driving in.  A LOT of people were driving out.  Even without a forced evacuation, about half of the city of Herriman was deicing to leave anyway.  It wasn’t even because of the flames.  The smoke was horrible.  The smell was overwhelming.  Ash was falling from the sky.

When we finally got to our street, we were stopped by a police officer from the other side of the valley who said we needed to get out because there were flames on the hill directly behind us.  We rushed into our home and grabbed all the important stuff.  You know, pajamas, one change of clothes, my daughter’s seizure medication, diapers, wipes, a bottle, milk, pictures, family videos, wedding pictures, the computer (just the box, not the keyboard or anything), and our safe with all our important documents in it.  We were in a hurry but not really really rushed…until my husband looked out our back window.  Up on the hill behind us there used to be a log home.  It was completely enfulged in flames.  My husband went outside to get a better look and he said the sound was just horrendous.  He described it as rushing air.  It was loud, it was eerie, and we knew it was time to get out.  Less than a minute later we heard police officers driving down the street behind us with loudspeakers telling everyone to evacuate.  We evacuated.

In that short ten minutes or so, our eyes were stinging from the smoke, we smelled like a campfire, and the kids were really scared.  On the way back to my parents were able to have a good discussion on what’s really important in life, and that there’s a reason we have homeowners insurance.  I had to explain that Wii’s, tv’s, beds, etc. could all be bought again.  And in all seriousness, when you see a house engulfed in flames less than a half a mile from your own house, you really think that could be a possibility.  It was so bizarre to drive away wondering if our house would even be there the next day.

As we drove away, we couldn’t help but look back (we had a lot of time to do it in because everyone else was driving away too).  Here are a few closer pictures.

Here’s another amazing picture.  The house here is actually still standing.  I think it was damaged, but it’s still there.  I saw it with my own eyes.  And the fire line goes right up next to it.

After we got to my parents, my husband and I put the kids to bed and watched the news coverage until after midnight.  The fire was started by the National Guard machine guns.  They had been firing even though there was a red-flag weather warning because of incredibly low humidity, head, and winds all in combination.  They have, just today, admitted full responsibility and will pay for damages.  They’ve said there was a miscommunication regarding the red-flag warning and that their policy is never to fire munitions under thos circumstances.

We were also texting a lot of our friends who live up higher on the hill than us.  Many of them watched from somewhere safe, hoping their homes wouldn’t actually burn down.  And luckily for everyone.  Only three houses were destroyed.  The firefighters (I think there were around 300 there that night) were amazing.  Look at this picture from my neighbors up the hill.  The fire literarlly stopped at their yards.

And here’s all the bulldozers they brought in to make fire lines.

And here’s the homes that were destroyed.

Pretty incredible.  And so sad for these three families.

In total 1400 homes were forced evacuated.  And like I said, even more people than that left.  When we woke up the next morning, we still weren’t being allowed back in.  But one of my neighbors posted this picture on Facebook.

My house is the one with the red brick right behind the police car.

Our entire area was really blessed that nothing more happened.  Only a few firefighters were injured due to smoke inhalation but no one died or was seriously injured.  And the fact that only 3 homes were destroyed is incredible.  I’ve received so many messages from friends and family asking if we’re all right.  We really appreciate all your concern.  Other than a house that smells like an old vegas casino, or like we’re chain smokers who went camping, and the fact that if my kids go out on the lawn they come in with black feet from all the ash, we’re great.  I’ve had my windows open since yesterday afternoon and the smell is slowly going away.  If my kids stink a little at school for the next few days, they won’t be alone.  Half of the school was evacuated and a few families still haven’t been able to go home.  They even cancelled school yesterday (the one thing my kids were excited about).

Last but not least, here is an aerial picture of the aftermath.  The fire is still burning beyond this, but isn’t it incredible what fire can do.  Sorry this picture is so small but I got it off of facebook.  My backyard is just barely visible in the lower left-hand part of the picture.

I know some of the words don’t match with some of the picture but I can’t figure out how to get everything where it’s supposed to be.  If I go in and move words down, it doesn’t do anything.  Something weird in the WordPress format I guess.

If you still want more, here’s a clip  from YouTube of a time lapse of just a portion of the fire.

2 thoughts on “Smoke. Fire. Forced Evacuation. Oh My!!!

  1. Wow, Shari, that is so scary. We thought our “fire” in Fox 41 was bad. It was nothing compared to a real wild fire. I am glad that you were able to get some of your supplies from your house and that you had a safe place to go to wait out the news. This post reminds me that I still have work to do to get things in order in case of emergency. It is a good reminder. I hope you and your family can be okay. We love you and Shawn and your sweet family.


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