TOOELE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Several families are going home to find nothing but rubble, after a major fire scorched through their neighborhood, late Tuesday night.
By Wednesday afternoon, the fire was well over-with, but the devastation was just beginning. The whole south side of Van Dyke Way (about 560 S.) is wiped out. Officials reported 10 homes destroyed and 8 others with heat damage.
Ken Hein, the son of an elderly couple who lost everything in the fire, showed up as soon as crews would let him into the neighborhood. He searched through the rubble for any salvageable keepsakes, but all he could find was a few coins, a silver bar, and some rifle remnants.
“They didn’t grab a cell phone, they didn’t put any socks on or anything. They just luckily got out,” Hein said of his 86 year-old mother and 88 year-old father, who evacuated with the help of neighbors.
“It sounded like a war zone. I don’t know if it was gas lines bursting, but it sounded like an actual war zone — people screaming and yelling, just explosions going off,” recalled Ryan Worwood, who also evacuated his home.
“For [my parents], it’s like what are they going to do? They’re completely homeless now,” Hein said.
Just a few blocks away sat Hein’s elderly mother, eagerly waiting to see her devastated home.
“Will they let us down there?” Lanila Hein asked Good 4 Utah’s Ali Monsen.
“We were down there. I think they will let you down there, but it’s still pretty hectic,” Monsen explained.
“My cuckoo clocks are all gone, my spoon collections are all gone. Everything,” Hein responded.
The Heins and dozens of others took shelter at West Elementary, where the American Red cross gave them food and clothing.
Meanwhile reality was sinking in among neighbors back at the scene, where officials confirmed they are investigating the fire as arson.
“We’re asking the public — anybody who may have seen something, anybody who may have information — either to call our dispatch center or call our investigations division,” said Tooele City Police Department’s spokesperson Cpl. Tanya Turnbow.
Crews worked to restore power and gas to the area as quickly as possible, but many went without it for hours. Those who still have their homes say they count themselves lucky, as others — like Lanila Hein and her husband — turn to family for help.
“They’ve been there all my life for me. Now it’s my turn to offer anything I can,” their son Ken said through tears.
The American Red Cross has committed to staying another night at West Elementary for those who still need shelter and food. Volunteers say after that, they will be assessing each individual family’s needs and go from there.