Wildfire forces evacuation of hundreds of Utah homes

A fast-moving Utah wildfire fanned by high-winds has more than doubled in size as it burns through dry terrain and forces evacuations of hundreds of homes, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.

The blaze south of the city of Provo grew in size to 84 square miles (217 square kilometers) from 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) Thursday night when authorities ordered evacuations in three communities. No homes have been reported damaged.

Aircraft were set to drop retardant and water on the fire, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Suzie Tenhagen.

“Their main focus today is protecting those folks’ homes,” she said.

The hot, windy weather that has created tinderbox conditions in the area is expected to continue into the weekend, and the fire is also threatening to converge with a second, smaller fire.

Sparked by lightning in a forested, rough terrain on Sept. 6, the fire raged out of control amid high winds Thursday and was only 2 percent contained Friday.

Lorene Miller told KUTV that she’s lived in the small community of Woodland Hills for 12 years and it was the first time she was forced to leave her home. She loaded up her kids’ baby pictures and videos and fled when authorities raised the alarm.

“There’s nothing we can do about it but pray, I guess,” said Miller, one of hundreds who took refuge at a high-school evacuation center.

The fire has also forced road closures, including U.S. Highway 89.

About 250 people are fighting the blaze, including helicopters and heavy air tankers, but the winds made it hard for the aircraft to take off.

Forest managers have said they decided to contain the fire and let it burn in a remote area to protect firefighters and boost habitat in the area where wildfires are part of the ecosystem.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, criticized that decision made during drought conditions — calling it “inept decision making” in a tweet.

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