Voluntary evacuations in place for Pine Valley as Saddle Fire crosses ridge

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jun 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-24 00:32:17-04

PINE VALLEY, Utah -- The Saddle Fire crossed over a ridge and began burning down a mountainside Thursday evening, and fire crews called for voluntary evacuations for all residents in Pine Valley.

At an information meeting held Thursday night, officials said about 500 homes could potentially be threatened by the blaze.

The Saddle Fire has grown to 903 acres, officials said at that meeting. Nearly 200 structures on the west side of Pine Valley were evacuated earlier in the week, but those residents were allowed to return home earlier Thursday. However, after the fire crossed the ridge, officials said homes on the east side are now potentially in danger.

The movement was caused by an increase in wind.

"At present no structures are threatened imminently, because the fire is up on the ridge away from the community," Fire Analyst Ron Steffens said.

Thursday night, fire crews called for voluntary evacuations for all Pine Valley residents and visitors.

"After a few days when the winds start blowing, you start to worry," Pine Valley resident Eva Mack said of the last few days.

Mack was allowed to return to her home Thursday morning, but later in the day fire crews called for voluntary evacuations.

"It's still not critical that we're putting in place a mandatory evacuation, but we are asking people to voluntarily, if you have the ability, to get your stuff and leave the valley," said Cory Pulsipher, Washington County Sheriff.

Firefighters are working to prevent the spread of the blaze rather than to contain the fire, partly due to the rugged terrain in the area, which has made it hard for heavy equipment to reach the scene.

Katherine Johnson is a host at the Pine Valley Reservoir Campground, and Tuesday she told campers to evacuate. Now, she is leaving the area as well.

"We were going to stay and make sure that we didn't have any campers and that sort of thing, but the way the fire has come down the mountain, it's just not safe for us to be there anymore," she said.

Drone use in the area has also hampered firefighting efforts, as air resources were suspended on three separate occasions due to the illegal activity. Officials are offering a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the person or persons responsible for those drone flights.