This article was updated on Wednesday, June 13. The number of homes burned in the fire is nine, according to official statements. The initial report was eight.
A fire that began in dry brush along Pack Creek in Moab at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, spread rapidly into a residential neighborhood, destroying nine homes and displacing dozens of residents.
Drought conditions and winds fueled the blaze that reportedly moved from the grass to the tree canopies to the buildings, officials in Grand County said during statements to the press on Tuesday and Wednesday.
More than 100 residents on both sides of Pack Creek were evacuated as the fire spread, including dozens of people at Cinema Court Apartments on the north side of the creek.
Mikai Yazzie, 13, said he was at home with family, including his grandmother, when he saw the smoke outside and alerted his family.
“I saw a fire starting. I saw white smoke, and some people were already outside, so I got my bag, packed it up with some things I need and got ready to leave. I told my family and we evacuated,” Yazzie said.
Displaced residents from the apartment building made their way across the street to the parking lot at Gravel Pit Lanes bowling alley, where they watched the fire spread and anxiously waited, some crying, many with their pets, to see if their homes would be next.
Officials said the fire originated in the dry brush behind Cinema Court Apartments. Moab Valley Fire Chief Phil Mosher said the fire extended in either direction along the creek, between Austin Drive to the Pack Creek bridge on South Mill Creek Drive.
The fire was still burning in a house on the south side of the creek early Wednesday morning as fire crews used a bulldozer to access the structure and put the fire out.
Heber Heyder, San Juan County fire warden, assessed the fire scene on Wednesday morning.
“I’m supporting Moab Valley Fire Department. They have asked me to GPS this fire, so I walk around the perimeter and give them a final acreage,” Heyder said.
“8.7-acres is what they have GPS’d as of right now in the burn area, the contained area,” Mosher said at about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
There were no reported major injuries to people or pets, said Grand County EMS Director Andy Smith, but some firefighters and at least one person sought treatment for minor injuries.
“We ended up treating five individuals, all firefighters, for smoke inhalation,” Smith said Tuesday evening.
Officials said they are still investigating the cause of the fire, and said the Utah State Fire Marshal was on the scene to assist with investigation on Wednesday.
Grand County Sheriff Steven White said the fire started with an open flame source, but there’s no determination yet as to what that open flame source was.
Mosher said that initially “it was called in as a brush fire.”
Residents watch as their homes burn
Homes and structures on the south side of Pack Creek on East San Juan Drive, La Sal Avenue and South Wasatch Avenue were damaged or destroyed.
Janet Gay evacuated from her home on East San Juan Drive with her two small dogs, and stood on the Pack Creek bridge as she watched the fire spread from the creek to her house.
“There it goes,” she said as the fire grew across her roof and through the windows. Propane tanks in her yard hissed with fire as people backed away from the bridge when the entire home became engulfed in flames.
Liz Holland was on the way home from T-ball practice at approximately 5:45 p.m. when she saw the fire. She watched the fire from East Holyoak Lane.
“We were on the corner of South Wasatch Avenue and San Juan Avenue before anybody got there, and it started out toward the creek and then the cops finally came and started shutting down the road to Wasatch and (police) said it was the wind, the wind was kicking their butts and it was just blowing it every which direction, and that’s when they started evacuating houses,” Holland said.
With tears in her eyes, she said, “I talked to a couple of little kids who were crying on the corner, I helped them try to get a hold of their parents, and then my daughter started to get really scared, so I had to load her up and bring her back. But then all of a sudden there was about three fire trucks that showed up, after about 15 minutes after it all started.”
Her husband, Gavin, a former firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management, jumped in to help, even though he didn’t have any equipment.
“It was 5:45 p.m. when I saw it, and then Gavin showed up here at about 6:15 p.m. after I sent him the video, like, ‘It’s bad!’ and that was enough, and he took off,” she said.
Isaiah Moore, a junior at Grand County High School, said he lives in the area where several structures burned to the ground. When the fire began, he said he started going around to check on the people in the houses close by, and then picked up a garden hose.
“It was spreading up and encroaching into the yards, but the firefighters let us stay around and we managed to get that under control and safe before it got to the houses. We were just using the house hoses … but we managed to soak his yard enough and get the flames down enough that we could keep it away,” Moore said.
A close call for Cinema Court Apartments
Haley Rice, watching the fire from the Pack Creek bridge, said she lives at Cinema Court Apartments on the north side of Pack Creek.
“I don’t think the fire touched us, but it’s right behind us, and it is super scary. It’s just scary, I don’t have another word for it. I feel so bad for everybody. We’ll figure out when we can go home, I guess, and see what we can do to help,” she said.
The fire was contained on the north side of the creek, near the property lines at the edge of the creek, before it could reach the structures off of South Mill Creek Drive, including Cinema Court Apartments.
Destiny Ivy also lives at Cinema Court Apartments. She was home when the fire began and was preparing to give her 11-month-old daughter a bath when people began banging on her door and telling her to get out.
“I just barely had time to grab my flip-flops and my keys, and I wasn’t able to grab anything for my daughter,” Ivy said.
Standing at the edge of Pack Creek, the Lance family met the fire with garden hoses to stop it from spreading to the South Mill Creek home where 83-year-old Shirley Lance lives.
Shirley sat on a chair in the yard; behind her, flames could be seen spreading through the trees along the creek as Dina, David and Hayden Lance sprayed water from the garden hoses.
Shirley’s daughter-in-law, Dina, said, “(Shirley) called us and said, ‘The creek’s on fire,’ so we said, ‘Did you call 911?’ — ‘Yes,’ and then we came down, and we’ve been down here ever since.”
The Lance family has owned the property on South Mill Creek Drive for about 50 years, or longer.
As she mopped up the charred area, Dina said, “It makes you sad. These are areas that have been in the family for five generations. This particular area was Lance property, and so it’s been in the Lance family since they came to the valley.”
“It’s catastrophic,” Dina continued. “I would say probably about every 20 years there’s a good fire that comes up the creek, but I’ve never seen anything like this, not with this kind of loss. Every house on the end of those streets (on the other side of the creek) is gone.”
A few hours later, the Lance family was asked to evacuate so that fire crews could station water trucks in the area.
By 11 p.m., Ivy was told that she and her 11-month-old still couldn’t return home to Cinema Court Apartments; a police officer escorted her back inside to retrieve diapers and other items for her daughter, and then she and her daughter spent the night at the Gonzo Inn.
Ivy said they tried to return home on Wednesday morning.
“I’m trying to air my apartment out — I tried to come home this morning and she started coughing, and so we’re going to stay at the Gonzo Inn again so my apartment can get aired out because I’m in one of the apartments that are in the back,” Ivy said.
When the Lance family returned to their property Wednesday, they were met by Jeff Whitney, Grand County building inspector.
“We’re assessing the damage,” Whitney said. “Insurance companies want to know how much, whether it’s a total loss or whatever, we’re cataloging the ones that are.”
From their property on the north side of the creek, the Lances could still see a home burning on the south side on Wednesday morning.
First responders and residents descend on the scene to help
Multiple agencies, including Moab Valley Fire Department, Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Moab City Police Department, Grand County EMS, Castle Valley Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and first responders from San Juan and Emery counties were on-scene. First responders from Monticello and Blanding also arrived to assist.
Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox flew in to Moab on Wednesday and walked through the contained burn area with Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus, Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder and other city, county and state officials.
Prior to the walk-through, they met during the morning at Moab City Hall with Moab City Manager David Everitt, Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann, Grand County Council Vice Chair Curtis Wells, Moab City Council Member Tawny Knutson-Boyd, Grand County Sheriff Steven White, Grand County EMS Director Andy Smith and Moab Valley Fire Chief Phil Mosher. Officials said the county and city is working together to address the fire disaster.
Officials said the Red Cross is available to assist people. On Wednesday, the Red Cross was stationed at the Moab Valley Fire Department to help people impacted by the fire.
According to the Moab City Police Department, an account has been established to accept monetary donations to benefit those who were impacted by the fire. The account is at Grand County Credit Union and donations should be made to “Cinema Court Fire.” Many Moab business came forward on Tuesday evening to offer free food and lodging to affected families.
Speaking on Tuesday about the outpouring of community support and assistance, White said, “I want to thank the community. Wendy’s shut down … and brought their whole staff out here to make sure everybody’s fed. Everybody has been showing up with cases of water. The Gonzo has opened their doors to anybody who’s been put out. I just want to tell the community, thank you, because that’s huge. That’s Moab, man. Moab comes together.”
9 homes destroyed; Multiple agencies descend on blaze; Community rallies to aid displaced families
To reach the Red Cross, call 800-328-9272 or 435-674-4440.
Officials are investigating the cause of the fire. If anyone has information, they are encouraged to contact the Moab City Police Department at 435-259-8938.