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After Frightening Experience For Evacuees, Returning Home Is ‘Spectacular’

David Winegar

Residents of Summit Park, Timberline and Pinebrook who had to evacuate for the Parleys Canyon Fire got to go home Monday and Tuesday.

The evacuees came through the emergency with stories of rushing out of their homes as the flames spread towards their neighborhoods. Some of their experiences were more frightening and stressful than others

Mike Jaquet of Pinebrook drove to a vantage point where he could see the blaze. He said he’d never seen anything like it.

“They were huge, huge flames,” Jaquet said. “I could see how fast it was moving. I was there for five minutes, because I knew that I needed to get back in my car and turn around and get back to my house because it was absolutely headed straight toward Summit Park.”

He grabbed his own valuables, then took a borrowed truck to homes of neighbors who were out of town and collected things for them. Hours later, he was one of the last people to leave the neighborhood.

Credit Kyle Maguire
Before it grew to hundreds of acres in size Saturday, the blaze started as small brush fires near Lambs Canyon along Interstate.

After seeing the oncoming fire for himself, he was “incredibly impressed” with the firefighters who stopped it and kept everyone’s homes safe.

He stayed with friends and another displaced family Saturday and Sunday nights, then at the Park City Hotel Monday. He said it was “spectacular” when the evacuation order lifted earlier than expected and he got to return home Tuesday night around 8:00.

For many, the uncertainty of what could happen to their homes brought all kinds of fears to the surface.

“It was very nerve wracking,” said Anne Lobdell of Pinebrook. “I couldn’t recall what my homeowner’s policy says about fires. I couldn’t remember how much coverage I have if I lose my home.”

Questions came into her mind that people usually don’t have to worry about all at once, such as, “How can my husband and I survive if we have to live in a 15-foot trailer if we have to repair and sustain a lot of damages to our home? Where would we live? What do we do with our dogs? What about my 80-year-old mother and my stepdad – where are we going to put them? How is this all going to work out if something actually does happen to the home?”

Lower Pinebrook residents like Lobdell got to go home Monday evening. She said throughout the experience, she felt lucky that her home was less at risk than other evacuees and could only imagine how much more worried others must have felt.

Morgan Vermerris was at work in Heber City on Saturday when she started receiving a flurry of text messages about the fire.

On top of that, she and her husband Matt Braslow were just about to celebrate their wedding, scheduled for this Saturday. They tied the knot about a year ago but postponed having a ceremony and reception with friends because of the pandemic.

“I had to shut down my business and head up, and we just did our best to prioritize what to grab, like everybody else. For me, the priority was wedding stuff. I needed my wedding dress, I needed outfits, I needed my passport – we just took the bare minimum,” she said.

The couple is relieved to still be able to have the celebration, even if there’s less time to get ready and lots of errands to run with heavy smoke in the air this week.

Rachel Pittard of Timberline and her girlfriend were out in the Uinta mountains camping when the evacuation notice came. When they found out, they were already where they needed to be.

She said she was more concerned for her neighbors in affordable housing.

Credit Ben Lasseter/KPCW
Summit County Sheriff's deputies set up traffic checkpoints in Pinebrook and Summit Park neighborhoods to enforce the evacuation order over the weekend.

As the blaze grew from small brush fires to dozens, then hundreds of acres within hours, the Summit County Sheriff’s office had to order evacuations quickly. Evacuation notices went out in text messages in English, and some Summit Park residents who only speak Spanish were left confused.

Pittard credits the emergency response for being effective in some ways but said there are lessons to be learned from the shortcomings.

“The economic disparity in Park City is epic. You’ve got the haves and the have-nots, and there’s very little in between,” she said. “I feel like this would be a great opportunity to look at emergency response in terms of the have-nots, frankly. The rental market in Park City is extremely difficult for people to attain and maintain, especially since COVID. I think emergency response plans’ messages need to be loud and clear to those who need it most, not those who live on Privilege Mountain.”

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Andrew Wright told KPCW the event showed there are “a lot of things [the Sheriff’s office] can do to communicate better” in future emergency responses.

All of those interviewed praised and thanked firefighters, and said they will have a more specific plan to follow in the next emergency.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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