LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah – After a fire broke out on a piece of private property near Little Cottonwood Canyon Tuesday night, county officials say they’re stepping in to clean up the land where they say the owner has been hoarding various items for years.
The fire broke out around 6 p.m. Tuesday. Fire officials say the blaze originated in the water heater of an RV parked on-site, and the fire destroyed the RV and several nearby sheds.
"Turns out there was somebody up there sleeping and [they] could smell smoke and investigated and found that there was a lot of heat coming from that area and that's where the fire started,” said Derek Maxfield, deputy chief of the Sandy Fire Department.
County officials say they’ve had concerns for years that some of the items the owner, Cal Richardson, stores on his property might be hazardous to the community. Some of the items include broken down cars, appliances and piles of scrap metal. Fire crews say perhaps the most alarming is nearly a dozen 55-gallon barrels of oil and fuel. Luckily none of the barrels caught fire.
“Anytime you've got wild land urban interface, and you’ve got fuels that are exposed to the wild land areas and stuff, it becomes a little bit more dangerous,” Maxfield said.
Neighbors who have known the owner for years say he’s an eclectic man who mostly keeps to himself.
“He’s a very unique person,” said nearby resident Terry Wood. “He’s got an interesting mind. If you talk to him, he’s very scientific-minded and he’s always inventing a lot of things and coming up with a lot of new things.”
Some residents say, for years, they’ve been turning a blind eye to his activities, but after hearing about Tuesday’s fire, they’re hoping the county will step in.
“I want it to be a safe environment for everyone,” said neighbor Ryan Houmand. “So that's important to me. I want it to be safe for my family and everybody else's too."
Salt Lake County Township Executive Patrick Leary sent a statement to FOX 13 News Wednesday, stating in part:
“Due to the increased public safety concerns and the proximity to sensitive areas in the foothills, we are moving forward on a cleanup of the property. We will have a plan in place in the next few days to complete the cleanup and report back to the neighboring communities on the progress."
FOX 13 News tried reaching out to Richardson, but he could not be reached for comment.