3 Dead In Wildfire In Eastern Utah

Saturday, June 30th 2007, 3:18 pm
By: News On 6

NEOLA, Utah (AP) _ A fast-moving wildfire burning in eastern Utah overcame two men who were working in a hay field, and a third man died overnight from injuries he sustained in the blaze, authorities said.

A 63-year-old man and his 43-year-old son were working in the field Friday afternoon when they were caught by the fire, said Louis Haynes, a spokesman for the Uintah Basin Interagency Fire Center.

Both died Friday. Another man who was injured in the fire died overnight, Haynes said. Haynes was not sure if the third man had been with the other two.

The fire started north of Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, on Friday morning. By Saturday afternoon, about 23 square miles, including part of Ashley National Forest in the northeastern corner of the state, had been consumed.

In California, evacuated residents were returning to their burned-out streets Saturday after a separate wildfire near Lake Tahoe destroyed more than 200 homes and charred 3,100 acres. Investigators said the blaze was started by an illegal campfire and was mostly contained. Some firefighters were beginning to withdraw.

Both wildfires were fueled by dry conditions in the West. In Utah, wind gusts Saturday were expected to reach up to 25 mph, fanning the flames even more. The cause of the wildfire was unknown on Saturday.

A specialized team of about 60 firefighters had been called in and was expected to take over fighting the blaze later Saturday.

A U.S. Forest Service investigation found that the fire south of Lake Tahoe was built in a campfire-restricted area, but said there was no evidence it was deliberately set to spark the devastating wildfire that has displaced about 3,500 people.

Donna Deaton, an investigator for the U.S. Forest Service, said Friday the fire was built about a quarter-mile south of Seneca Pond, a popular recreation area south of Lake Tahoe. There were no suspects, she said.

Residents did not seem surprised by the news.

``Apparently kids hang out there,'' said Donna Barker, a 21-year resident of Tahoe Keys who evacuated on Tuesday, although her home was spared. ``I don't think people think. It's a sad reality.''

Because of tinder-dry conditions due to a lack of snow over the winter, the U.S. Forest Service had banned all campfires, charcoal grills, smoking and fireworks throughout the Tahoe basin.

Hundreds of firefighters were expected to head home Saturday after two previous days of mild winds allowed crews to surround the blaze, which officials said was 80 percent contained.

Plans to reopen roads in the most damaged areas were scrapped for the weekend after residents complained about the possibility of gawkers as they returned to sift through the wreckage of their burned homes.

The fire's cause was announced after a second straight day of mild winds that allowed firefighters to surround the blaze. The fire was 80 percent contained by Friday evening, U.S. Forest Service incident commander Rich Hawkins said.