Approximately 35 people remain displaced since the Cinema Court Fire tore through Pack Creek and into a Moab neighborhood on June 12, destroying nine homes. Many residents have been prevented from returning to clean up until asbestos testing could be completed.
Some residents who lived in the burned area had not been permitted to return to their property, as of Tuesday, June 19. Orion Rogers, environmental health director with the Southeast Utah Health Department, said the area remained closed and said that residents are not allowed to commence with any cleanup efforts.
“On Saturday (June 16), an asbestos inspection company came and took samples,” Rogers said. “Those samples are currently being analyzed by a lab. We are waiting to get those results back. Once we get those results back, the results will dictate how we proceed from here on out.”
Rogers said that asbestos in its original manufactured form is not a health risk.
“Until you have something like a fire, which causes the matrix in which the asbestos is held to breakdown and become friable, therefore causing it to be a public health risk,” Rogers said.
Tests were conducted at all of the homes affected by the fire, Rogers said.
The fire began dry brush behind the Cinema Court Apartments on South Mill Creek Drive and spread across Pack Creek to East San Juan Drive, La Sal Avenue and South Wasatch Avenue.
Approximately three dozen people are still displaced from their homes in the area, said Craig Sanchez, public information officer for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management.
Janet Gay evacuated from her home on East San Juan Drive with her two dogs as the wind helped to carry the fire across the lawn and tree canopies near her property. Her home was destroyed and she now lives with her son and daughter-in-law.
Gay works in family medicine as a registered nurse at Moab Regional Hospital. She said she returned to work at the hospital on Monday, June 18.
“I got a lot of hugs, and everybody was very gracious and sweet,” Gay said.
After her shift was completed at the hospital, she stood dressed in a donated tunic on the lawn beside her home and said, “I think that I am feeling very grateful to the people of Moab who have reached out. It’s very sweet. I think I’m still heartbroken and scared about what’s going to happen in the future, but at the same time, I’m just so thankful that I live here.”
Gay creates stained glass, and when she was able to return to her home briefly, she said she was able to recover the two first pieces of stained glass that she ever made. But all of her family pictures are lost, she said, as is her great-grandmother’s cake stand, and the mementos that she would have liked to pass on to her children.
“We’ve sort of been stuck going through stuff, because we can’t get in anymore because of asbestos issues. We have to stay away from it until they test it and make sure that we don’t get sick,” Gay said.
Grand County and Moab City officials confirmed that the official number of homes destroyed in the fire is nine, plus one accessory dwelling. Officials have not released the cost of the damage in the disaster.
Over 100 people living in and around the 8.7-acre burn area were evacuated during the fire. Grand County Emergency Management said on June 19 that they do not have a tally on the number of people in long-term displacement, and said they expect to release the number within days.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZES DISASTER RELIEF
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management created a Facebook page, “Cinema Court Fire Coordination,” to coordinate immediate communication with the public.
Sanchez, and Samantha Bonsack, who has taken on a volunteer role in response to the disaster, said Emergency Management is taking the lead to help the families and those affected by the fire. As of June 18, they were in the process of organizing a volunteer program.
“There are a lot of people in the community who have a lot of heartfelt care and concern, and want to assist in any way that they can. We will have a system in place for them to come to register and volunteer,” Bonsack said.
Right now, Emergency Management is asking that people only give monetary donations to help with the relief efforts, Sanchez and Bonsack said.
“We rarely encourage physical item donations at this point,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t accept those in the future.”
“People accepting the donations don’t have a place to store the items yet,” Bonsack said.
Monetary donations to fire victims may be deposited with the Grand County Credit Union in the “Cinema Court Fire” account.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is managing questions and inquiries for fund allocations and the progress of donations to the account. The credit union’s vice president, Brennan Knutson, said the fund is the only account for the fire victims at the Grand County Credit Union.
Sanchez said approximately $20,000 had been raised as of June 19 for the families affected by the fire.
Upcoming volunteer opportunities with Emergency Management will be released soon, Bonsack said. The office is instructing people who want to put their skills to use as volunteers to follow the Emergency Management’s Facebook page for those updates.
“This is going to be a long-term program,” Bonsack said.
Two days after the fire, the Utah Association of Realtors (UAR) announced a donation of $4,500 to provide immediate assistance to the families who lost their homes.
“These families lost everything,” said Randy Day, president of the Southeastern Utah Chapter of Realtors. “We wanted to provide these victims with cash immediately so they can buy some necessities. We want to help these families get back on their feet as soon as possible.”
On Wednesday, June 27, local bluegrass band Quicksand Soup, and “special mystery musicians,” are performing a benefit concert for the families affected by the fire.
Community radio station KZMU and the Moab Backyard Theater are hosting the show. It begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Moab Backyard Theater, located behind Zax restaurant at 56 W. 100 South. The show is family-friendly and free to attend, but donations are being accepted.
CAUSE OF FIRE UNKNOWN
Officials said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
“The sheriff’s office is currently investigating all leads,” Lieutenant Kim Neal of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office said on June 19. “The leads are few and far between, but when we receive the calls we respond diligently. We are still in the process of trying to find out the person or persons involved in the starting of the fire.”
Neal declined to release any details about those leads. The reports from the Utah State Fire Marshal and the Utah Department of Natural Resources that will help to explain the fire have not been completed and reported to officials in Grand County yet, Neal said.
FIRE RESTRICTIONS AND FIREWORKS
As the fire ravaged Pack Creek on the evening of June 12, the Moab City Council passed an emergency resolution to prohibit the use of any fire source within 150 feet of Mill Creek and Pack Creek, as well as within the areas of the city parks.
That includes fireworks and smoking.
“[A] total ban in those areas. No sparklers, no nothing,” Moab City Manager David Everitt wrote in an email on June 18.
Restrictions on fireworks and open fires are also in place on all federal and state lands and Forest Service lands in Utah.
Legal-to-purchase fireworks are still allowed to be used and sold in other areas in the city.
The annual community fireworks display, sponsored by the City of Moab and Grand County, is currently expected to take place as scheduled at dusk on Wednesday, July 4, said Lisa Church, communications manager for the City of Moab, on June 18.
Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus issued a statement ahead of the July 4 celebration.
“As our community works to recover from the recent fire that destroyed homes and property in neighborhoods along Pack Creek we ask all our residents to please be mindful of the dangers of fireworks and other fire sources,” said Niehaus. “Ideally, we hope that everyone will refrain from using personal fireworks this year to help protect themselves and their neighborhoods.”
“Please adhere to the fire and fireworks restrictions this year,” said Moab Valley Fire Chief Phillip Mosher. “We have seen what can happen very quickly. Please be safe.”
Mosher also said, “The fire is done … but the big thing is, we want people to be very conscious of this situation, and cleaning up around your own properties, or the properties of people who can’t clean, helping them out. The big rule of thumb is, have a 30-foot gap between your house and any vegetation.”
At the Grand County Council meeting on Tuesday, June 19, council member Mary McGann said, “The state said this was one of the best-managed fire and disaster areas they’ve ever been to.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Samantha Bonsack was a volunteer, not an assistant public information officer as previously reported.
An estimated 35 people still displaced; New restrictions on fires, fireworks
“The leads are few and far between, but when we receive the calls, we respond diligently. We are still in the process of trying to find out the person or persons involved in the starting of the fire.”