Grass fire contained near Ensign Peak after hikers evacuated from area

Posted at 6:12 PM, Aug 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-06 23:56:17-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Crews responded to a grass fire near the Ensign Peak trail head in Salt Lake City Saturday, and several hikers were evacuated from the area.

Aaron Crossman said he was hiking down the peak and approaching the last leg of the trail, when he noticed flames burning in the grass right next to the trail just before 6 p.m.

"I was walking down just checking my phone and then I saw a little bit of a fire start, and ran all the way to it," he recounted.

Crossman said the fire was small in size, but quickly spreading up the east side. He took a photo, called 911 and was told to stay in an area where firefighters could easily see him.

But by the time they arrived, he said the fire grew so much that they didn't need him to point it out.

Hikers like Sam Zuo, who were near the top of the peak, started to evacuate.

"We saw there was a fire spreading at the base, and that's when I was telling my girlfriend that, 'Hey I think we should think about escaping and leaving,'" Zuo said.

He said they and another group couldn't take the normal trail down, because that's where the flames were burning.

"We would have gotten trapped for sure," he said. Instead he said they trekked down the steep southwest side of the peak, falling and getting scratched up as they navigated the slippery terrain.

Fire fighters helped hikers evacuate, and began working on a plan to protect the nearby homes.

Captain Mark Bednarik said the winds pushed the flames away from the homes and up the hill. At first, they had a tough time getting control.

"It did escape past that point, the wind was driving it up the hill a little bit," he explained.

Homeowner John Desha, who lives next to the trail, watched from his backyard.

"We went up to the fence line and looked out over and... there were flames shooting up fifteen feet in the air," he said.

The 30 fire fighters who responded managed to contain the fire just before 7 p.m. The size is estimated at about 20 acres.

No homes were threatened by the fire, but crews moved hikers out of the vicinity and had asked the public to steer clear of the trail head and surrounding area.

Salt Lake City Fire Department said the cause of the fire is undetermined but they believe it was a natural cause, possibly from lightning. Captain Bednarik said a storm cell with lightning strikes passed through the area right before the fire started.

The trail to Ensign Peak stayed closed for the rest of the day, while Salt Lake City Fire, along with wildland fire fighters from the state and U.S. Forest Service mopped up hot spots.

Bednarik said the trail will open and return to normal Sunday morning.

For Crossman and Zuo, this was their first time hiking Ensign, and they certainly won't forget it.

"This is one way to experience Ensign Peak," Crossman said.

"It's an adventure," Zuo said, with a laugh. "First day, it's an adventure."