A fire erupted on the morning of Sept. 5 in the mouth of the Weber Canyon in Uintah, causing the evacuation of over 900 community members, the closure of two main interstates and a loss of multiple housing structures.
The Weber Fire District stated that the cause of the fire is still unknown, but it was man-made. Investigations are underway to determine the cause.
As of the afternoon of Sept. 6, the fire had been five percent contained and held to 619 acres burned.
The morning of the fire, the Weber Fire District closed Highway 89, forcing Weber State University students to find an alternate route to campus.
“I was traveling toward Weber State on Highway 89 when I saw the smoke at the mouth of the canyon,” Weber State Junior Emma Fernelius said. “I wasn’t sure what was happening until I saw the flames on the side of the hill.”
Fernelius left her house in Fruits Heights around 7:40 a.m. and expected to get to school around 8 a.m., like usual. Fernelius wasn’t expecting to be held up in traffic and rerouted through Interstate 84 to get to campus on Tuesday.
“The smoke was so dark — I couldn’t even see the stoplight to turn onto the highway,” Fernelius said. “The winds were so awful. My car was shaking, and the flames were so close to the road. I am thankful I made it to campus safe.”
While Fernelius was able to take Interstate 84 to get to campus, many were unable to. Shortly after 8 a.m., the wind shifted west and began burning land so close to the road, Layton City and the Weber Fire District felt the need to shut down the interstate to keep travelers safe.
Around 10 a.m., an announcement was made that three structures, including two homes had been engulfed in flames.
“As of now there have been no reported injuries,” Brandon Thueson, Dept. Chief of Weber Fire District, said. “Evacuations will continue as planned.”
Thueson announced that Weber State University’s Dee Events Center was designated as the evacuation center until further notice.
Around 11 a.m., evacuees, who were displaced by the fire, began arriving.
Judene Hale, a resident of Uintah Highlands, met her daughter Caitlin Hale in the parking lot of the Dee Events Center.
“We were ready to go. We loaded the dogs and left,” said Hale, who heard the news of the evacuations from her neighbors.
Another resident of Uintah Highlands, Chris Klinkenberg, heard news about the evacuations from a police officer patrolling the area, spray-painting the streets in front of houses that needed to evacuate.
“So far, I’ve been wavering between not knowing what to do and moments of clarity,” said Klinkenberg, whose home was within a mile of the homes already ablaze.
As of 1 p.m., six structures had been claimed by the fire, along with 500 acres. Winds of 40 mph made it difficult to predict the change in fire pattern, thus making it harder to contain.
Two local schools were evacuated: South Weber Elementary and Uintah Elementary. Students of South Weber were relocated to Clearfield High School, while Uintah students were sent to the Dee Events Center.
Weber State began seeking volunteers to help at the evacuation site with setting up tables, chairs, food and registration.
Local organizations quickly began donating food, water and other supplies to the Dee Events Center to help aid evacuees.
“We are extremely grateful for the community’s help and support,” Weber County Commissioner James Ebert said. “We are especially thankful for Weber State for letting us host our evacuation center here.”
Raquelle Johnson and her mother, Twila Bird, were just some of the evacuees sent to the Dee Events Center after the mandatory evacuation. Bird also had two other children, one in junior high and another in high school who would be joining them later.
“We first heard about the news on the phone, than sheriffs began going door to door to alert us of the evacuation,” Johnson said.
The two quickly began packing, gathering their animals and important family history documents that were irreplaceable.
For Bird, evacuations were becoming her second nature, as she was caught in the crossfires of Hurricane Harvey just last week in Houston while visiting family.
“As of right now, we are told our home is alright, but they are going to stay away in case of overnight flare ups,” Johnson said. “We are hoping we can return safely tomorrow.”
The Red Cross was working to help people find places to go who didn’t have anywhere to stay.
“We are working with local hotels to offer discounts to those displaced by the fire,” Ebert said. “The Red Cross is also using their resources to find places to go for families needed shelter.”
Lauren Hunter, a nurse at Ogden Regional Medical Center, was also on scene at the Dee Events Center offering medical attention to those who needed it.
“We are working with the Red Cross to provide medical equipment that may be needed,” Hunter said. “We are also providing medications for those who cannot get back into their homes.”
While the Dee Events Center could not remain open all night, evacuees were required to check in there, and further accommodations would be directed from there.
Weber State University spokesperson Allison Hess said the Dee Events Center will remain the evacuation center as long as the community is in need of it.
“We hope this has continued to strengthen our relationship with the government, local emergency responders and the community,” Hess said. “Weber State will continue to be here as a community member.”