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Parleys Canyon Fire hits 1-year anniversary

David Winegar
Trees in Parleys Canyon burn in August, 2021 during a wildfire that burned 550 acres over the course of eight days.

It’s been a year since the Parleys Canyon Fire forced the 4-day evacuation of 5,000 households in Pinebrook, Timberline and Summit Park.

Along with forcing evacuations, the fire closed lanes on the interstate, as well as businesses due to power outages. It also shut down Jordanelle State Park as emergency helicopters scooped water from it, and a Deer Valley concert was canceled.

The fire started August 14th when a faulty catalytic converter ignited brush on Interstate 80 eastbound between Lamb’s Canyon and Summit Park. It eventually burned more than 540 acres before rain and favorable weather conditions helped hold the fire line, allowing crews to work on putting out hot spots. It was fully contained eight days later.

Park City Fire Chief Bob Zanetti says there are lessons to learn after every fire. In this case, a lot of cooperation from a number of different agencies made a difference. And luck.

“The rain and even prevailing winds,” Zanetti says, made a difference. “It started lower in the canyon, then those prevailing winds were kind of pushing it towards the south, which you usually don't see. Usually, they come straight up the canyon.”

He says the fire was a wakeup call for those living in wildland urban interface areas – those areas where human development meets undeveloped wildlands; basically fuel for fire.

“We have more people interested in prevention, and education and doing things on their own for their property,” Zanetti says. “Not only that, but we've had the chipping program for 20 plus years, but it's busier than ever this year. Also, the fire mitigation efforts around town. It started up in Summit Park and moved to Bear Hollow. That's just great stuff to see. Makes for healthier forests and can help prevent fires up in those areas.”

Since being evacuated from his home high up in Pinebrook last summer, Mike Jaquet says he’s now taking more precautionary measures. He was one of the last to leave the neighborhood after helping several neighbors evacuate, including some who were out of town and couldn’t get their valuables themselves.

Ben Lasseter
Pinebrook residents speak to law enforcement officials at the entrance to their neighborhood, where they were only allowed to return home for short periods of time while the fire burned.

He believes it’s likely the fire would have reached his home if it had started even a short distance from where it did.

“I also saw that it wasn't really random,” Jaquet says, “the fact that things can catch on fire from the road from the highway like chains sparking or this catalytic converter or whatever, or even like a truck or a car crash. Those things happen a lot, and they could affect a fire from it. So I definitely am more aware of it now than I've ever been, because of what happened a year ago.”

He now keeps a go-bag in case he needs to leave quickly and has a fireproof safe. He also landscapes differently, cutting back trees to create extra separation from his neighbor’s property and the woods.

The fire also revealed gaps in the county’s emergency preparedness. When the evacuation notices went out, they only went out in English.

Eight months later, in April, Summit County launched its bilingual alert system which can send Spanish-language text messages to any phone in a geographic area that has Spanish as its default language. A Summit County staffer will now translate all emergency alerts into Spanish and send them as soon as possible after an English alert goes out.

“I think our department learned a lot in terms of how best to communicate to the community, especially in times of emergency,” says Bridget Conway, Summit County deputy director of communications and public engagement. “In terms of why we chose the text line, it's really a low stakes way for people to get information, you know that sometimes providing identifying or personal information to government entities can be a fair barrier to signing up for things like this. So all that's required here is the phone number, and you're opted in and receiving those communications.”

Conway says her office is working to spread awareness about the new emergency alerts and fire preparedness in general.

She also says next month, which is National Emergency Preparedness Month, the county will make a push to get more people signed up for alerts in English and Spanish.

People who prefer English can sign up at summitcounty.org, and for Spanish, text “SUMMITALERTA” to 888777.

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