OGDEN, Utah — A fast-moving wildfire swept down a northern Utah canyon Tuesday morning, destroying homes, forcing evacuations and closing highways.
A least five homes were burned as more than 1,000 people and two schools were evacuated amid high winds that fed the flames in a canyon north of Salt Lake City.
Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways, U.S. Highway 89 and Interstate 84, as firefighters struggled to get a handle on the blaze while winds gusted at up to 40 mph.
The fire that started in Weber Canyon has consumed more than 2 square miles (5.18 sq. kilometers). Evacuations were ordered in high-end homes nestled in the foothills about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City.
“The fire continues to grow and spread with this wind. It’s continuing to push. We keep hearing reports of other structures being involved,” said Weber Fire District spokesman Brandon Thueson told reporters. “It’s been a very unpredictable situation this morning.”
About 900 people were expected to remain evacuated overnight while officials tried to hem in the fire, Thueson said. Fire crews expected fire activity to die down as temperatures drop in the evening, but officials weren’t ready to let people return home because the fire was still burning in an area with occasional wind gusts that could shift direction as night falls.
About 15 miles from the site of the fire, thick gray smoke obstructed the view of nearby mountains. Drivers in the area about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City were told to take Interstate 15 instead.
Evacuees were sent to a basketball arena at Ogden’s Weber State University, about five miles from the blaze. Ten buses dropped off about 400 elementary school students who walked in a line holding hands into the arena. The students sat above the basketball court, eating lunch and watching Weber State basketball players shoot hoops, as parents streamed in to pick up their children.
Officials brought in pizza, snacks and bottled water to feed the students and residents, who sat in scattered clusters inside the arena’s hallways.
Outside, Conya Pacheco and her family waited with their dog in a patch of grass, hoping for word on their home in South Weber. Pacheco said she and her family packed up important documents, dog food and a change of clothes as the fire approached her neighborhood.
“You could see some of the embers floating around. But we just kind of held tight until they came around door-to-door and said we needed to evacuate.”
County officials said they planned to keep the evacuation center open Tuesday night until residents were able to get help or return home.