Crews take efforts to halt fast-moving wildfire

A federal firefighting team took efforts Sunday to halt a fast-moving wildfire that had killed three people and charred about 35 square miles (90 square kilometers) in northeastern Utah.

The fire started Friday morning north of Neola, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Salt Lake City, and by Sunday morning crews had it about 5 percent contained. The cause had not been determined.

The small communities of Whiterocks, Farm Creek and Tridell were evacuated Saturday, but some residents in Tridell had been allowed to return.

Edson Gardner, of Fort Duchesne, went to Farm Creek to evacuate his mother, whose home was burned to the ground.

"It came down the canyon like a herd of horses," he said Saturday. "The sheriff told us we had five minutes to get out."

Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said buildings had been destroyed but he did not have a count.

A U.S. Forest Service command team that travels the country fighting the largest fires joined local crews Sunday and took over direction of the firefighting efforts.

Eleven-year-old Duane Houston escaped the fire but his father, 43-year-old Tracy Houston, and his grandfather, 63-year-old George Houston, were killed by the flames Friday as they worked in a hay field, authorities said. The owner of the field, 75-year-old Roger Roberson, died at a hospital, officials said Saturday.

The Houstons had gone to buy hay from Roberson, and were helping him move irrigation sprayers on his field in an attempt to block the flames.

Duane said he was told to run for their truck as flames and smoke filled the air.

"I ran and couldn't find the truck, so I kept running through trees, climbed two fences and followed the road," he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

He was treated at a hospital and released.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We can't remember when civilians were killed in a fire," Huntsman said Saturday. "It's about as frightening a sight as I've ever seen."

In California, evacuees returned to their burned-out streets Saturday south of Lake Tahoe, where a wildfire had destroyed more than 200 homes and charred 3,100 acres (1,255 hectares) , displacing about 3,500 people. Investigators said the blaze was started by an illegal campfire and was 85 percent contained.

Fire crews north of Los Angeles had a 19-square-mile (49-square-kilometer) blaze 80 percent contained, state fire department spokesman Rick Espino said Saturday. Four crew members had been injured battling the blaze that destroyed 12 homes and six buildings since it broke out a week ago in steep canyons south of the San Joaquin Valley, officials said.

In Montana, a nearly 6-square-mile (15.5-square-kilometer) blaze near Yellowstone National Park was 60 percent contained Saturday, officials said. Evacuation orders remained in effect for 45 to 50 summer homes.

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