Pine Valley residents face uncertainty as Saddle Fire burns nearly 1,200 acres

Posted at 5:26 PM, Jun 25, 2016

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah -- The Saddle Fire burning in southern Utah could continue to chew through the wilderness for weeks, and fire officials said Saturday they're watching the weather to make sure winds don't push the flames into the nearby town of Pine Valley.

Fire crews estimate the blaze is burning at 1,193 acres, and it is 5 percent contained.

A voluntary evacuation is still in effect, though many residents have chosen to stay and wait while firefighters do their best to stop the Saddle Fire from inching closer to their homes.

More units arrived to help for the weekend. The area crews contained is on the west side, between Pine Valley and the town of Central.

"The shot crew went in and tied that up," explained U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Mike Ferris. "They'll continue to make sure that [the fire is] not going to escape up there."

Crews have now spent days creating fire breaks, and lining some areas with hoses and sprinklers. A helicopter has been making the rounds with water drops.

During a public meeting Tuesday morning, a meteorologist on the incident management team explained that the forecast calls for more hot, dry weather. That's the exact opposite of what they need to tame the Saddle Fire.

He also mentioned the possibility of thunderstorms, and gusty winds next week--winds that could pick the fire back up, and push it toward Pine Valley.

"It's scary, no matter how many fire breaks they've got around your town," said Pine Valley resident Mary Esther Putnam. "We didn't want to lose our homes."

Putnam and her husband Howard sat on their porch Saturday afternoon, with Mary's car packed and ready in the driveway.

She said they don't think they'll have to evacuate.

At least, they hope not.

"They've got so many personnel in here, they're not going to let anything happen to us," she said confidently.

On the other side of town, Jeff Gardner walked around his empty restaurant, the Brandin' Iron Steakhouse.

The blaze is taking a bite out of his business.

He said he had to close his restaurant during the only two days of the week it's normally open-- Friday and Saturday-- because of the uncertainty of evacuations.

The adjacent supply store and ice cream shop, which he also owns with his father Larry Gardner, shut its doors for several days.

"That hits us hard," he said. "The three summer months is when all our traffic is up here."

He's re-opening the ice cream shop, and he even served a few scoops to customers on Saturday. It's official day back in business is set for Monday.

But Gardner knows as long as that fire burns for the next several weeks, business will likely stay slow.

"We know that we won't have a lot of traffic," he said, adding, "We'll be open and hopefully some of the firefighters will come by."

Ferris said, at this point, there's no telling how long the voluntary evacuation will stay in effect.

It depends on the weather, and the movement of the Saddle Fire.

He said for now firefighters are letting it burn through the steep, rugged wilderness but are making sure it doesn't get too close to town.

Crews will continue to spend their time securing fire lines around the town.