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Mandatory Evacuations Still In Place; Residents Camping Out At Salem High

SALEM, Utah – Around 5,000 people have been evacuated as the Pole Creek Fire burns closer to the homes in three Utah County communities. Many of them were staying at the primary evacuation center at Salem Hills High School.

Residents were evacuated from the communities of Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge, and Covered Bridge Thursday night.

Some people slept overnight in the school parking lot in campers and cars, and they expected to sleep there again Friday night.

“It got really big really fast,” said Teresa Eklof, who has lived in Woodland Hills for five years.

The smoke and fire was burning in her neighborhood as she spoke with KSL.

“They said it was maybe a mile away. It was moving pretty fast,“ she said.

Ekolf and her husband evacuated with the rest of the community, and slept in their car in the parking lot. Two days ago, her daughter in North Carolina had to evacuate her home with her four child, as well, as Hurricane Florence was bearing down. They family has spent a lot of time on the phone over the last few days.

“(We asked her), ‘Is everybody safe? Everybody’s good?’ So then last night when we were evacuating I called her and said, ‘Guess what I’m doing?’“ Eklof said.

She was evacuating too.

“That was pretty incredible,” she said, even if it was a little bit nerve-racking. “But we laughed about it.”

“How do you take 22 years of living in a house, and move it in 2 hours?“ said Guy Thomas of Woodland Hills.

He made sure his family was safe and rounded up valuables. Thomas lost a house to fire in the same area just six years ago, and knows how traumatic it can be to go through something like that.

“My main concern is just to have everybody be safe, and to be well taken care of,” he said.

Thomas and others attending a community update Friday morning were also upset that what was a small fire last week, was allowed to burn before it exploded into a much larger fire.

“It’s a mile away from residences,” he said. “They decided, ‘Hey, let’s actually try to put this fire out now.’ I don’t understand why they didn’t have helicopters (and) water planes with retardant a week ago fighting this fire.“

None of the federal firefighting agencies involved were addressing that question from evacuees, at least for right now.

“Especially after the fire season we’ve had with the large fires in Utah this year. To see it not be addressed when it’s small – it’s frustrating,” said David Tanner, who evacuated his home in Woodland Hills.

The people KSL talked with were optimistic, but also realistic about this big fire.

“We’re not particularly concerned that the fire will reach our area,” said Tanner. “But, anything can change with the wind.“

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