Monday, September 20, 2010

Update And Aerial Views On "Machine Gun Fire" In Herriman, Utah; Only Three Homes Destroyed, Fire Not Yet Contained

Update September 21st: All media sources now agree that only three homes were burned instead of four. A few assorted outbuildings were also destroyed.

The wildfire which roared out of Camp Williams late on September 19th and threatened Herriman, Utah, now officially designated the "Machine Gun Fire", is in remission early on September 20th thanks to hard work by firefighters and winds dying down. But it is not yet contained, and gusty winds are forecast to resume during the afternoon hours. The main fronts of the fire are currently on the east flank and Rose Canyon. An estimated 5,000 residents from 1,652 homes were ordered evacuated; three homes and several outbuildings have been confirmed to be burned. KSTU Channel 13 reports that the residents of the three homes have already been contacted.

According to the BeReadyHerriman Twitter site, the following Herriman neighborhoods have been determined to have suffered NO FIRE DAMAGE: Cove @ Herriman Springs, Desert Creek, Indian Hollow, Shoshone Hills, Ft Herriman Cove, Valley View, Lookout Ridge, Overlook, Rosecrest, and Beacon Hills. However, the evacuation order for the entire area is still in effect. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said residents from the middle of the evacuation area with a specific need to return to their homes should go to the fire station at 60th West and 13100 South. Police will determine on a case-by-case basis whether to escort them to their homes for a short time. To deter looting, anyone found in the evacuation area without official permission faces arrest.

Update: Evacuations have now been lifted at The Cove at Herriman Springs, Valley View, Shoshone Hills, Fort Herriman Cove, Overlook and Herriman Heights.

-- Map of evacuation area posted HERE.

-- Those who are concerned about the welfare of those who evacuated can visit the SafeAndWell website operated by the American Red Cross and type in the person's name.

-- Newest batch of media reports provided by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KSTU Channel 13, and KSL Channel 5. KSTU's dedicated page of all Herriman fire stories accessible HERE.

KSTU Channel 13 provides a video of aerial footage of the area taken early on September 20th. You can see that there's only one major hot spot, with numerous minor hot spots remaining to be suppressed:

 

Here's a better aerial view zooming in on the area of greatest damage:



The National Guard now states that the fire began as early as 12:30 P.M. instead of 3:30 P.M. on September 19th. It is believed to have been started by sparks from machine gun firing, although this has not yet been confirmed. It's been confirmed that no tracer rounds were used. According to the Deseret News, crews were notified and then responded immediately, working on the fire until they thought it was extinguished. However, strong winds sent embers out ahead of the fire, causing it to reignite. It then moved into Camp Williams' artillery impact area, where the presence of unexploded ordnance hindered firefighting efforts because exploding ordinance could take out a helicopter flying overhead. But as Guard firefighters worked around the artillery area, it became evident the fire was growing too much for them to handle, so they summoned the Unified Fire Authority at 3:30 p.m. By then, the fire was out of control.

Update: The National Guard has now admitted it conducted firing exercises even though a red flag warning was in effect. Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet said the National Guard always checks fire warnings before approving training exercises. Due to a miscommunication, however, he admitted soldiers conducted a training exercise when weather conditions were clearly unfavorable. "We shot in face of a Red Flag Warning, which is something we do not do," Tarbet said. "My military people were unaware of it. We should have been aware of it."

Gov. Gary Herbert and others toured the area by helicopter Monday morning (Sept. 20) and called it a miracle that more homes weren't burned. Herbert said when he went home around 1:30 a.m., he feared 25 to 100 homes would burn. He praised crews for saving all but four homes overnight, especially those who used bulldozers to build a fire break next to the flames. Rep. Jason Chaffetz also toured the area, praised firefighters and described seeing homes intact but with charred debris and brush around them.

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