“We’re going to rebuild and stay here, probably until we die.”
William “Bill” Partridge’s La Sal Avenue home was destroyed by the fire along Pack Creek on June 12, but as he and his wife, Ivy, sorted debris on their fire-ravaged property on Wednesday, June 27, he said there is no question as to whether or not they will rebuild. The home was in their family for four generations.
“We moved the house here in 1970,” Bill said. “but we’ve lived in Moab since 1965.”
Prior to 1970, the Partridge family’s home “was up on the gas plant hill,” Bill said, “and we moved it down (to Moab). It got caught between Hole in the Rock and we had to go 3 miles per hour — to move it in to Moab. We set it down on the foundation and we built around it. We (did) these bricks here. I had a shop, a four-car garage in here, and it was mostly made of metal, but that heat (from the fire) just curled the metal right up like it wasn’t nothing.”
The Partridges’ house, home to their three kids and seven grandchildren, is one of nine that burned on June 12. An additional living unit on one of the nine properties was also destroyed. The total fire damage is estimated to be $1,357,712. Grand County Assessor Debbie Swasey said the estimated building loss value is $735,712, and the land value loss is $622,000. The estimate does not yet include the cost of the damage to additional outbuildings and sheds affected on other properties where the fire jumped to, Swasey said.
Dan Kirkpatrick, owner of Monument Waste, was at the burn site on Wednesday, June 27, to assist with the cleanup of the fire properties.
“We’re glad to be here,” Kirkpatrick said. “The county is doing the demolition and the loading, and we’re doing the hauling of the debris and the metals. The metals go to recycling and the debris goes to the landfill.”
As of Wednesday, June 27, Kirkpatrick said one property had been cleaned up, and the second property was under way. Crews moved heavy equipment and machinery into place around the burnt remains of one property across the street from the Partridges, dumping metal and debris into dumpsters.
“A lot of the property owners are still sifting through debris, trying to get any mementos that they can, so we’ll let that process go through. Insurance companies have to do their part, so as the properties are released, we can then go to work,” Kirkpatrick said.
As Bill and Ivy picked up mementos from their property — scraps of paper, an intact cassette tape strewn over exposed soil and a heap of brick and mortar — Bill recounted the event of the fire.
“We was inside,” Bill said. “A friend up the road called me and said, ‘There’s a fire in the creek.’”
There were several children in the Partridges’ home at the time of the fire, Bill said, and they were all able to evacuate without injuries.
“I had my son and his wife living with us, we had a three-month-old baby, (my son’s) two kids, two other kids, and me and my wife, and then my other daughter, and we was watching her two kids, when the fire broke out,” Bill said.
Bill said that the fire spread to their neighborhood from Pack Creek and engulfed an old house between their home and the creek, a home that he said “had been there for 50 years falling down.”
Once the creek and neighboring house caught fire, Bill’s family had only minutes to evacuate.
“My daughter went over there (to the creek) and there’s grass up to her knees, and when it hit that, she came running back and I said, ‘We’re getting the babies out,’” Bill said. “So, we got the babies out, and I made sure the babies were out, and then we got all the vehicles and moved them right over here (to the street), and Rick Carrigan pulled his car right here. When it hit the trailer, I had just gone in and got the UTV, and as I was coming around the corner, the propane balls exploded, and got all over Rick Carrigan’s car. It was done with.”
The Partridges’ home was gone within 20 minutes of the neighboring house catching on fire, Bill said.
“It was a horrific fire and stuff, but now we got to just start our lives back and get us a new house,” Bill said. “There was eight of us that had insurance, two of us that didn’t, and the other two are getting help and we are getting help. Our minds are back to where they’re supposed to be. We’re grateful for every little bit of help that we get.”
No help, Bill said, has gone unnoticed: “I had two little girls that had a lemonade stand come up and give me a couple of dollars that they made from their lemonade stand, and that really broke my heart.”
COMMUNITY RAISES CASH FOR FAMILIES
Samantha Bonsack, a volunteer at the Grand County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management, said on Tuesday, June 26, that just over $40,000 had been raised for the Cinema Court Fire fund. Only monetary donations are being requested at this time, as the displaced residents — about 35 of them — don’t yet have the space to store donated items. Monetary donations may be made at the Grand County Credit Union (also known as the Desert Rivers Credit Union).
Cleanup on the properties had been put on hold by the Southeast Utah Health Department for asbestos testing. On Friday, June 22, officials received the results of that testing, which indicated that of the nine homes, eight were cleared and one had asbestos contamination.
Officials determined that the fire was human-caused, but the Grand County Sheriff’s Office is still leading the investigation and a $1,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for the fire.
“I think we just got to pick ourselves up,” Bill said. “As long as nobody got killed, or hurt really bad, it’s great … we’ll get the cleanup, and (the cleanup crews) have been so great to us. Anything we ask, they’ve done on the property. They’re really nice people, and that’s why we stayed in Moab, is because of the people and the way people treated us.”
“This ground is sentimental to me,” Bill said, “because we moved a lot of this dirt into here. It was like a hole when we first started. When we first moved the house, it was one of the first houses here (in 1970), and this was all sage brush.”
Ivy said that she is surprised by what the family has been able to recover from their property. First, it was a full deck of cards still covered in the cellophane wrapper, and then pictures started to turn up, including an old photo album of Bill’s father’s that the demolition men found when they were moving debris. But that wasn’t what surprised her the most.
“We bought all of our kids a safe, just a little one to put their birth certificates in. Our kids actually had to have it drilled out because they lost the key. Our youngest daughter actually found the top of it the first day, two days later we found the bottom, and all the paperwork was still in there. It was wet, but it was perfectly fine.”
EXTREME DROUGHT CONDITIONS CONTINUE
Grand County and the Moab area are in an extreme drought. Fire restrictions are in place. No open fires are permitted on forest service and public lands in the Manti La Sal National Forest; on all unincorporated lands within Grand County; and within 200 feet of Pack Creek and Mill Creek in the City of Moab.
For the month of June, weather forecasters report that no precipitation has fallen in the area; the June average is .39 inches.
On Monday, June 25, a fire was reported in the Manti La Sal National Forest, about 1-mile from the Loop Road at Geyser Pass. Officials named it the Klondike fire; .38-acre burned before it was contained the following morning.
Incident commander Zack Lyon determined that the wildland fire was human-caused, but an investigation was ongoing no further details were available from the Forest Service as of Tuesday, June 26.
Heather McLean, Forest Service fire prevention technician, urged people to use extreme caution.
“Even at high elevations in the La Sal Mountains, it is very dry,” McLean said. “We have extreme drought conditions in this areas. We had very little snowpack. We have had really insignificant rain this year so far this season. The fire danger is extreme and will remain so, and will remain so for quite some time.”
McLean said that people should carefully check their vehicles as they travel in the area, and advises people not to drive on the grass. She said some of the common causes of fires have included dragging trailer chains and safety chains, worn tires, and failed catalytic converters.
“Before you travel, do your vehicle maintenance,” McLean said. “Vehicle maintenance is very big … and it’s also very important now for people who are Jeeping, or doing recreation, not to drive on the dry grass on state and BLM lands. Just the heat of the car can start a fire. The exhaust, for example, gets really hot — hot enough to start a fire.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Samantha Bonsack is a volunteer with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management, not an assistant public information officer as previously reported.
Fire damage estimated to be $1,357,712
“I think we just got to pick ourselves up. As long as nobody got killed, or hurt really bad, it’s great … we’ll get the cleanup, and (the cleanup crews) have been so great to us.”