VEYO, Utah (ABC4 News) — Human-caused fires continue to consume firefighters across southern Utah in 2020 as investigators work to determine the exact cause of the wildfire erupting over Veyo Volcano north of Dammeron Valley.
The wildfire, renamed the Veyo Road Fire, spread rapidly overnight and is currently mapped at 2,262 acres and 75% contained as of 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts arrived to suppress the flames when they ignited just after 5 p.m. Sunday, but the winds blowing steady at 20-25 mph with gusts up to 45 mph quickly forced that fire over the ridge of the volcano along state Route 18. Joyce Gaufin, a resident of Dammeron Valley’s west side for 24 years, said she’s never seen flames that close to the neighborhood before.
“That’s when I knew that we were in really big trouble,” Gaufin said. “The winds were so bad and it was coming down the hill so fast. We got things packed up, and that was the first time in my life I thought I could actually lose my house because it was less than three-quarters of a mile from where I lived.”
Once the fire spread around the volcano, the winds carried it to the south with “high rates of spread,” according to Washington County fire warden Adam Heyder. By 9 p.m., residents on the west side received a reverse 911 alert to prepare to evacuate. Firefighters positioned themselves at the very pinpoint of where they thought the flames could spread to the neighborhood and were ready to defend it.
The fire is under investigation, but investigators confirmed it is human-caused. Heyder said it’s the second fire Washington County has had so far this summer in the exact location, which he called “very unusual.”
“The fire acted a lot differently than the fire we had in the exact same spot and under the exact same winds, so there may be something to that,” Heyder said. “It’s a very scientific process gathering evidence and taking photographs so we can try to get answers.”
Meanwhile, Gaufin said the neighborhood felt “incredible community support,” adding that all of the communities along highway 18 come together in this kind of emergency. Residents began checking in on neighbors, and others from nearby communities like Diamond Valley began offering to help evacuate animals and ensure residents had a place to stay. Luckily, within a few hours, the emergency order was lifted.
Fire managers say some of the biggest challenges crews face when fighting wildland fires is the wind and the nighttime as the aircrafts are not equipped to fly under such conditions. The single-engine air tankers and Type 3 helicopter dipping into the Upper Sand Cove Reservoir remained fighting the flames until the sun went down.
As the blaze burned actively through approximately 5 a.m. Monday, the Bureau of Land Management dozer worked into the night establishing containment lines to help protect the community.
Engines from all of the local fire districts and federal agencies in Washington County arrived on scene, along with emergency management crews and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Utah Department of Transportation. Deputies knocked on doors to ensure residents were aware of the flames and checked campgrounds to keep the public away.
Currently, hand crews, 8 engines, a dozer, Type 3 helicopter, and air attack are working to contain the blaze.
The fire burned approximately 8 power poles, and power companies worked overnight and throughout the day Monday to restore power in some areas of Veyo and Gunlock.
Heyder added that the wildland resources are starting to become limited because it’s typically the end of fire season and some seasonal firefighters are being laid off without funding.
“It’s continually being human-caused fires, and the majority of the fires are started off the sides of the roads, from dragging chains to brakes locking up,” Heyder said. “Washington County officials have cited more people for illegal campfires this summer than they ever had in the history of this county.”
The wildfires are not only being started by tourists but also locals, fire officials said. Heyder said that in his 26 years in the fire industry, he has never seen “so much negligence” by the public.
Emergency preparedness officials ask that residents conduct an assessment of the risks around them and mitigate them, create a personal preparedness plan with plenty of supplies for family and pets, and preserve artifacts by duplicating them or storing them in a safe place with a family member or a friend.