Patch Springs Fire mapped as residents return to Terra, about 31,000 acres burned

Posted at 9:53 PM, Aug 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-17 20:19:30-04

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah -- Officials mapped the Patch Springs Fire Saturday and determined it has burned about 31,000 acres, and evacuated residents were able to return to their homes in Terra Friday night.

Officials had reported the fire had burned an estimated 33,000 acres Friday night, but that number was revised Saturday.

The Tooele County Sheriff's Office called for the evacuation at about 3:20 p.m. Friday, and the evacuation was lifted around 10 p.m. Friday. Officials said the evacuation impacted about 60 people.

Officials also moved to evacuate the Clover Spring Campground, which is located on Bureau of Land Management land near Highway 199.

Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said Friday firefighters told him that all of the mobile and trailer homes in the Willow Springs community, which is near Terra, had been destroyed by fire and were a total loss. A few permanent commercial structures in the community were still intact. The area had been evacuated Thursday.

Joanna Wilson, BLM fire information officer, said Friday that heat, rugged terrain, lack of resources and winds were making their work difficult.

"It's very big, very step, very rugged, near the Terra and Willow Springs area is very sandy conditions, so even our dozer is having a hard time putting in line," she said. "And there are a lot of other communities that are going to be affected if the fire remains to be very active."

When lightning sparked the fire Saturday in Skull Valley, firefighters feared it would only be a matter of time before the winds shifted and homes were threatened.

That's exactly what happened Thursday afternoon. Twenty five residents were told to evacuate from the Willow Springs community.  The fire snaked its way down the Stansbury mountain range thanks to hot winds. Flames were half a mile from the Willow Springs community, which is tucked in a canyon just above the town of Terra.

"I grabbed some pictures, mostly pictures and some jewelry," said evacuated resident Cheri LeFevre

LeFevre packed her car with sentimental values and evacuated to an LDS shelter near the entrance at Dugway Proving Ground.  Her home was one of ten threatened, but after living through a handful of wildland fires in Skull Valley, she's almost numb to it.

"What can you do?  All you can do is hope, we didn't get everything out," she said.

Willow Springs Resident Mike LeFevre said the fire was awe inspiring.

"A couple of the canyons that just looked like the furnace of Hell," he said. "They were just full of fire, full of smoke. You could see the huge flames from the road. And it gets in those canyons, and it's just like a chimney... It's awe inspiring. Frightening sometimes."

On the ground and in the air, firefighters worked to protect homes, ranch land and the Goshute Indian Reservation.  They also shut down Highway 199.

Adding to the stress, fire officials said they lost resources due to the Rockport 5 fire in Summit County.

"If we had those air resources we would've been done two days ago," Terra Fire Chief Gerry Neil said Thursday.

Neil fears this may burn at least another week. He said it depends on how the weather behaves.