Letter to the Editor: Situation not right
Beginning in 1940 our families have gathered in Willow Lake for our summer vacation over the Fourth of July holidays. This year was no different. Reservations for camping made a year in advance from reserveusa.com to guarantee an adequate space for our 10 day gathering.
Prior to leaving, a article in the June 26 Sun Advocate warned of a controlled prescribed burn within the Ferron Creek drainage area located between Willow Lake and Ferron Reservoir lasting two days. Attempting to acquire additional information I called the paper and radio stations, being advised, that was all of the information they had. Additionally, attempting to gather information regarding the burn, I called Ferron City Hall, Ferron Fire Department only to hear a recorded message void of any burn information, advising me to contact the Utah Highway Patrol in Price for road conditions, The Emery Division advised that as far as they knew the road to Willow Lake was open. Calls to the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Ferron went unanswered and the website www.utahfireinfo.gov was nonexistent.
Stopping at the Ferron Manti- La-Sal National Forest office on June 30 on my way to Willow Lake, I found the office closed. Continuing to Willow Lake I was stopped by a Road Closed sign about a quarter mile short of Willow Lake, where I was greeted by a forest department employee, pleasantly telling me the road would be closed for a couple of hours while fallen trees were being removed to allow vehicles to pass. She also advised, Willow Lake Campground would be closed to the public because it was being utilized for fire personnel and helicopter operations for the next two days. She told us, however, we could use the campgrounds at Ferron Reservoir or camp at Duck Fork.
A line of additional expectant campers gathered while waiting for the road to be cleared. Visiting with them disclosed that they too had experienced the same difficulties gathering information regarding the 'controlled burn'. One group turned around to go home or some other place to enjoy the holiday. I wished we had followed them.
After a two plus hour delay our caravan of campers was escorted by a forest service truck. It soon became apparent this controlled burn' was truly out-of-control. There were places where it had jumped the road in several places exposing, burned black pines and aspen trees, leaving twelve inches or more of smoking white ash behind. It was a heart breaking scene of total devastation.
Arriving at Ferron camp grounds disclosed spaces were all reserved, but empty. Our group agreed to continue on to Duck Fork. But no sooner than we had set up camp we were evacuated back to Ferron because the 'control burn' was again out of control and headed in our direction.
Determined to camp in Ferron campgrounds we located an 'open' space accommodating three rigs which I immediately pulled into. Again setting up camp, unloading gear we were greeted by a rather rude camp host telling us we were ripped off by the cost of our reservations at Willow Lake, but insisting we pay an additional $15 or leave. Learning his boss was a childhood friend, however, he backed off and we paid the additional fee.
For the next three days we experienced road closures to Willow Lake, and Duck Fork. Hot spots flaired up in scattered areas where helicopters (two one day) dumped water on them attempting to control the expanding forest fire. Then came the high bursts of changing winds creating an out of control explosion of flames quickly consuming the east side of Willow Lake, up and over the white cliffs directly behind the lake encroaching down the south side of the mountain. Flames were bursting a thousand feet high or more, black, gray and white smoke raising to the sky, spreading first north then south into Emery county. The fire continued through out the night. Finally the next morning conditions and expansion of the fire directly below and close to Ferron Reservoir demanded our departure, cutting our vacation short by five days.
While attempting to leave, we found the road was closed to Ferron and our only escape was Mayfield Canyon. This road is a dirt, dusty, washboard, curvy road adding an additional 78 miles to our mileage home.
In summary, needless to say, this was one of the most disappointing adventures one could encounter in life. I was exasperated by non existent information or misleading information in a news release dated 06-26-07 that I found on a bill board above Ferron Reservoir, including the decision to schedule a out-of-control forest fire over the Fourth of July holiday.