3 dead in eastern Utah wildfire


NEOLA, Utah (AP) – A fast-moving wildfire burning in eastern Utah killed three men who were working in a hay field, authorities said.

A 63-year-old man and his 43-year-old son were working in the field Friday afternoon when they were caught by the fire and died at the scene, said Louis Haynes, a spokesman for the Uintah Basin Interagency Fire Center.

A 75-year-old man injured in the fire died overnight, Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said Saturday. An 11-year-old boy who was with the men survived. “A fire wall came over that hill,” Merrell told the Deseret Morning News. “The officers who were here said it just started sucking up all the air.”

The newspaper reported the boy was treated and released from a hospital.

The fire started north of Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, on Friday morning. By Saturday afternoon, about 23 square miles, including part of Ashley National Forest in the northeastern corner of the state, had been consumed.

Gov. Jon Huntsman requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Association after being flown over the area.

In California, evacuated residents were returning to their burned-out streets Saturday after a separate wildfire near Lake Tahoe destroyed more than 200 homes and charred 3,100 acres. Investigators said the blaze was started by an illegal campfire and was 80 percent contained.

More firefighters departed the Lake Tahoe region. About 1,300 remained Saturday, compared to more than 2,000 the day before, said Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Both wildfires were fueled by dry conditions in the West. In Utah, wind gusts Saturday were expected to reach up to 25 mph, fanning the flames even more. The cause of the wildfire was unknown on Saturday.

A U.S. Forest Service investigation found that the fire south of Lake Tahoe was built in a campfire-restricted area, but said there was no evidence it was deliberately set to spark the devastating wildfire that has displaced about 3,500 people.

Donna Deaton, an investigator for the U.S. Forest Service, said Friday the fire was built about a quarter-mile south of Seneca Pond, a popular recreation area south of Lake Tahoe. There were no suspects, she said.

Because of tinder-dry conditions due to a lack of snow over the winter, the U.S. Forest Service had banned all campfires, charcoal grills, smoking and fireworks throughout the Tahoe basin.

Meanwhile, north of Los Angeles, fire crews had a 19-square-mile blaze 80 percent contained, state fire department spokesman Rick Espino said Saturday.

“We still have some areas of concern, but it’s looking pretty good,” Espino said.

Four crew members had been injured battling the blaze that destroyed 12 homes and six buildings since it broke out Sunday night in steep canyons south of the San Joaquin Valley, officials said.

AP-ES-06-30-07 1955EDT