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Sanpete County’s Newest Volunteer Recruits Put To The Test In Hilltop Fire

Utah Fire Info
A photo of the Hilltop Fire in rural Sanpete County.

Update 8/8/18 3 p.m.

The National Interagency Fire Center is keeping tabs on seven wildfires in Utah, including the Hilltop Fire in drought-stricken Sanpete County. Officials say the fire is 12 percent contained, and flames have burned nearly 3 square miles so far. Nearly 170 personnel are working the Hill Top Fire. That’s about twice as many as Tuesday.

A fast-burning fire in central Utah has scorched 1.5 square miles and threatened 500 people in communities around Sanpete County.

Fire investigators confirmed on Tuesday that the Hilltop fire was caused by human activity. Nearly 100 firefighters are on the scene battling the blaze, which is not yet contained.


Utah currently has seven active wildfires that have scorched 70,000 acres, according to the National Interageny Fire Center. Gov. Gary Herbert told Fox 13 on Tuesday it's been one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory.


Last spring, Sanpete County recruited volunteers to learn wildland firefighting.

Marty Duitz is the fire department administrator and former chief in Indianola, where the Hilltop Fire erupted Monday. He spoke with KUER about the department’s newest recruits and how they’re handling the latest fire.

Duitz: We've got five new recruits. And the training they go through is through [the Utah Fire & Rescue Academy] — that's up at Utah Valley University. ...But they do it online and then we give them the skills that they have to pass, so they're tested on the requirement class for wildland firefighter qualifications.


Q:So is it too soon for them at this point … for any of the new recruits to be helping out on the Hilltop Fire?


Duitz: We already have some that are helping out, just not on the fire line. They have to be red-carded before they can go out on the fire line. But there is plenty of stuff around the station, especially now.


Q:I hear a little bit of activity there at the station. What's it like there right now?


Duitz: Like a zoo. But did we get people coming in and out and we've got people coming in for water ... for their engines.


Q: Can you give me some statistics in terms of your crews out on the fire and how that's working over a 24-hour cycle?


Duitz: We've got departments from all over the county, including BLM and U.S. Forest Service, State Fire. Yeah — probably five or six of the departments in the county that are up here assisting. Our units themselves are over in Milburn doing structure protection right now.


Q: How many structures are threatened — any idea?


Duitz: Well, Milburn has a lot of homes — mostly it's farmland and ranches. But, last night, there was one major structure protection. And they ended doing a backburn before the fire got there, and they were able to save that structure because the fire came up to the burn that they had already done. Without that backburn I'm quite sure that the house probably would have been destroyed.


Q: The lieutenant governor tweeted that at least a couple of structures were saved by some volunteer crews. Do you know anything about that?


Duitz: Yeah, that's the ones that were ... The one specifically is the one I'm talking about. It is a very very nice home — custom home — that was built, I don't know,10-12 years ago. Definitely a high-dollar home.


Q: Were you on the fire in Fairview, that was quite big, and wondering how fighting this fire compares to to that one?


Duitz: The last one was in 2012 — the Wood Hollow fire. Totally different fire. That one was in the wide open, started in Fountain Green, and came right here to Indianola, and then went south to the northern part of Fairview. That was a type 1 fire, which is the biggest fire reading.

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