‘I honestly have not been that scared in my entire life’: A look into what it’s like to evacuate

Wildfires 2020

View of the Knolls Fire from Provo. Courtesy: Chuck and Raquel Westover

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – It’s something that you hope never has to happen to you: being evacuated from your home. You leave not knowing when you can return and not knowing if your home and possessions will be okay when you return to your property.

But, that was the reality that thousands of Utah families faced this past weekend because of the evacuations the Traverse Fire and Knolls Fire caused.

“I honestly have not been that scared in my entire life. It was intense,” says Stacy Gomer. Gomer was evacuated Sunday due to the growing Knolls Fire near her home in Saratoga Springs.

The Knolls Fire flames came within about 40-50 yards of the Gomer family home. She and her family heard about the fire on social media and simply drove to the end of the street to catch a glimpse of the flames. Within ten minutes of returning home from checking out the new fire, smoke had engulfed their neighborhood and police were in the neighborhood warning residents of the growing flames. The Gomer’s then started to pack things up knowing that an evacuation order would soon be necessary.

“Luckily just three months ago I went through all my important photos and papers and ancestor’s stuff and already had Rubbermaid bins labeled and ready to go,” says Gomer. “I was so happy I did that because then all we grabbed was an outfit, a toothbrush and then those Rubbermaids with pictures and sentimental things.”

Gomer’s Saratoga Springs smoke-filled neighborhood as evacuations were taking place. Courtesy: Stacy Gomer

Gomer recalls the evacuation happening so quickly that adrenaline kicked in to make sure that her family evacuated and was safe as soon as possible.

“It happened so fast…the smoke was intense, it was everywhere. Our house stinks, we stink, our car smells horrible,” recalls Gomer. “Once all the adrenaline was gone and we were all safe I just got really emotional about all of it.”

Saratoga Spring’s Police Officers were even going door to door in Gomer’s neighborhood making sure that residents had left. If police were able to confirm that no one was inside, they would then attach some caution tape to the door to notify other officials that no one was inside.

Gomer was able to talk to the police officer that came to her door through their Ring Doorbell to confirm with the officer that no one was left inside her home.

Gomer’s Ring Doorbell Video

As Gomer was slowly driving out of her neighborhood along with hundreds of her neighbors who were also caught in evacuation traffic, she says that that is when all the emotion finally caught up to her.

“I just kept thinking, ‘I hope I got everything I needed’. I didn’t care about the house I just wanted to make sure I got all my grandma’s stuff that I have. It was emotional but I knew that all my family was safe, I knew that everyone was going to be okay and that if something did happen, I really had what was most important to me,” Gomer says.

Gomer’s family was lucky enough to have family nearby that they went and stayed with until the evacuation orders were lifted. Others though were not as lucky and were given the option to go to Westlake High School. Many evacuated residents also chose to stay in hotels. Gomer said she also noticed people on community Facebook pages offering evacuees to come and stay in extra bedrooms or an empty basement. People were even offering places for people to hold their evacuated livestock animals.

Gratefully, all Knoll Fire evacuations have been lifted as of Monday afternoon. Gomer and thousands of other Saratoga Springs residents are now returning to their smoke-filled homes but are grateful that no further damage was caused. However, Gomer says that Saratoga Springs Firemen and Policemen are the real heroes.

“I am so grateful for the firefighters and the police,” Gomer says. “They evacuated 3,100 homes. Can you imagine police officers knocking on every single door during this fire making sure people are evacuated? They are risking their lives to ensure that people in the community are safe.”

As Gomer now sits at home reviewing the past 24 hours, she realizes that, “It’s real. It’s not just acreage getting burned. It’s people’s lives.” She goes on to say, “Now that I have experienced this. I think I will have more empathy and thought when there is a fire somewhere and maybe see what I can do to help because it is intense.”

As of Monday afternoon, the Knolls Fire has burned 12,000 acres and is 25 percent contained.

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Fires are burning across the state including the Traverse Fire in Lehi, the Rock Path Fire in Millard County, and the Volcano Fire in southern Utah.

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