DUCHESNE COUNTY (News4Utah) – More residents are returning to their homes near the Dollar Ridge Fire as fire officials lift evacuation orders for zones D2, D3, and D4. As a result, the American Red Cross announced Sunday that its shelter at Duchesne High School will be closed.
As of Sunday evening, officials reported the fire is 35 percent contained at nearly 50,000 acres burned with 784 personnel on the ground.
Since the fire started last Sunday, 29 volunteers at the volunteer center have assisted with 906 evacuees.
“I was talking to a couple earlier today and I said ‘Congratulations on going home’ and tears started coming out of his eyes. It’s tough. You see what true devastation these people have dealt with,” said Kirsten Stuart, public information officer for American Red Cross.
Stuart said some of the volunteers went as long as 42 hours without any sleep when the fire first took off to get the shelter ready for evacuees.
Dewey Dipoma, one of the volunteers said this was his first time volunteering with the American Red Cross. Now that residents are beginning to return home, he said his emotions were setting in.
“I think it’s kind of built up. I haven’t been this emotional all the trip. But we’re starting to wind down and I guess I’m winding down now. I’m so proud to be a member of the Red Cross and to help people,” said Dipoma.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling because you feel good that you’re there to help somebody when they really need it. But at the same time when you hear of the devastation and the loss they’ve incurred, it’s equally as heartbreaking,” said Stuart.
Malisa Karren is part of a volunteer group with the local LDS church that partnered with the American Red Cross to collect food, water, clothing, and toiletries at Duchesne High School. Although she was not affected by the Dollar Ridge Fire, she said she couldn’t stand by and not help.
“Instantly, I just was going through my house,” said Karren. “I was sick, just sick to my stomach. Just sick for all the people who were in harm’s way. Just sick for those who were going to lose everything or just sick for them not knowing what they’re going to lose or what was going to happen.”
She said although Duchesne is a small town, the community is very tight-knit and eager to step in to help.
“Community is everything. We live in a small community. We don’t have the outside resources. We do, but it takes a little bit longer to get those and to be able to utilize those. So just the community effort of everyone together has just been incredible,” said Karren. “Just to know if anything like this were to ever happen again, we can do it. We can do hard things and we’re going to make it out on the other side.”
Stuart shared that some of the volunteers have deployed to other missions such as relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and the Las Vegas country concert shooting. She said sometimes volunteers do get emotional because of the devastation they assist with.
“We become a family when we’re out on a disaster and we’re there to help each other and hold each other up when we need to hug each other when we need to cry and to rejoice in victories like closing the shelter.”
Fire officials ask drivers to adhere to the 35 mph speed limit on Highway 40 to ensure the safety of first responders. They will hold an informational meeting to provide the latest information for the community at Duchesne High School Monday night at 7 p.m.