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Fire Evacuees Express Anxiety, Optimism In Weekend Of Uncertainty

Ben Lasseter/KPCW

The fire that engulfed more than 600 acres in Summit County this weekend has displaced 6,000 people. 

The Parleys Canyon Fire spread at breakneck speed Saturday. Meanwhile, residents of Summit Park, Timberline and Pinebrook scrambled to grab valuables and get out of the oncoming wildfire's way.

Warnings started coming in around 2:00 p.m., and Summit Park residents were quickly told to evacuate. Within two hours, Sheriff’s deputies were knocking on Pinebrook doors telling people to leave the area.

The short notice left little time to pack essentials. That meant different things to different people. Residents reported grabbing documents, pet supplies, electronics and skis. One seven-year-old filled four backpacks with stuffed animals.

Rita Baden of Summit Park didn’t have a car to evacuate. She got a ride to a Park City shelter from a police officer.

“I wasn’t able to get even my medication,” Baden said. “I have two kittens, and he said we didn’t have time [to bring them]. So, I’m here frightened for them, frightened for my house – it’s not an easy time.”

A firefighter went to her house later and managed to retrieve one of the cats, and photographs of Badeen’s late husband.

Credit Ben Lasseter/KPCW
Drivers in Pinebrook line up to ask Sheriff's deputies to allow them into their neighborhoods.

In Pinebrook, the DeRop family are no strangers to natural disaster, having lived near the South Florida coast, but they said this was the closest they’d come to real danger.

As they evacuated, they grabbed their own valuables along with some from the homes of neighbors who were out of town.

“We were going down every road trying to check out the fire,” Magnus DeRop said, “and my dad kept saying, ‘If we see it come over the ridge, we’re packing up, and we’re going.’ But then, it just fell into chaos. My mom and dad just started to go crazy. One’s trying to help the neighbors, one’s just trying to get out of here. And then, we ended up at our grandparents’ house.”

The Lawler family of Salt Lake City got stuck in the Summit Park area while visiting friends. They wound up sleeping in a parking lot on an air mattress in their car.

Mason Lawler says it wasn’t so bad; his two-month-old daughter Evelyn is already a “professional camper.”

“We couldn’t drive to Salt Lake on the 80 at the time, so we just decided to find a park to hang out at. We’re pretty set up for it. It wasn’t bad at all. We actually had a beautiful little view out of the back. We were looking for a place to sleep, and I thought, ‘Nobody’s going to get mad at us for sleeping in a park during an evacuation.’ I was just happy the cops didn’t come mess with us or anything, because it’s like, ‘Where are we supposed to go?’” the father said.

After a night staying with a friend in Heber City, the Mills of Pinebrook were able to return to their house for belongings Sunday morning. As they passed through the neighborhood traffic stop, a Sheriff’s deputy gave a warning.

“He said, ‘If you need to go feed our dogs, you can have about 20 minutes, half an hour, but I need to keep your drivers’ licenses so I know who you are.’ So, I gave him the driver’s license, and he said, ‘By the way, if something happens, we’re not going up to get you.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve lived nice, long lives, we can live with that.’ So here we are. We’re hoping the thing ends today,” Chris Mills said.

All in all, many evacuees were in good spirits Sunday. Officials reported favorable, light wind conditions and a smaller burn area than what was first reported Saturday.

Many said they were relieved and grateful. Evacuees said they appreciated the outpouring of support from the community, and thanked firefighters from Park City, Salt Lake City and beyond for keeping their homes safe.

Credit Ben Lasseter/KPCW
A Blackhawk helicopter and DC-10 airplane fly over Lambs Canyon carrying water and fire retardant to drop on the Parleys Canyon Fire.

Ken and Julie Himmler of Pinebrook said seeing the helicopters, airplanes, engines and people attacking the blaze gave them peace of mind.

“I’m not too worried about it. These guys will do their job. There’s no plumes going up right now, so I’m not really too worried about it. I know it could pick up, but it is what it is,” Ken said.

“I have a profound amount of gratitude for our firefighters. They’re some hard working people,” Julie said.

“Without a doubt. Those guys are kicking butt,” Ken said.

At the close of the weekend, Pinebrook and Summit Park residents still couldn’t go home. One official said the evacuation could lift Tuesday morning.

But, at least, the fire was still over half a mile away from any buildings.

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