Convention of Statesmen


Behind the scenes of the Herriman fire from my perspective- Rep Carl Wimmer

It has been just over a week now since the community of Herriman was shaken to the core by the possibility of losing hundreds of homes to wild fire. I had an interesting perspective on the fire, and feel without divulging any confidential information, that I can share with you my perspective.

Sunday evening I had gone for a walk with my kids, and stopped to let them play at the park for a few minutes. We already knew about the fire, but the smoke was getting increasingly worse. We went home to get out of the smoke filled air. At around 7:00pm (give or take) the flames crested the hill. With how large the flames were and with how fast they were moving, I figured evacuations would be imminent. Not long after, Mayor Josh Mills issued an evacuation order of certain areas of Herriman.

I decided to get ready and go to the middle school where the evacuation point was set up. I am a CERT block captain as well as the State Representative, so I wanted to offer my assistance where I could. I drove to the middle school and was told that the evacuation point was being moved to the High School, and the command post was at city hall. My first impression was how prepared the citizen CERT team was. They were lined up, manning the evacuation points as if they had done it hundreds of times. They were very professional.

I drove to Herriman City Hall to the command post and there met with Mayor Josh Mills. Mayor Mills was dealing with the emergency in the most professional way one could possibly imagine. He was deciphering information which was coming in very quickly. For the most part I was drafted to be one of the “decision makers” along with the city wide elected officials, but most the decisions at that point were being made by the fire professionals, as should have been the case.

I helped where I could. We received word that people at the evacuation site were in need of water for their pets, as well as pet food. I called the Smiths in Herriman and they offered all they had, without hesitation.

I stayed close to Mayor Mills, ready to do anything he asked, but the citizen CERT, The Unified Fire, and the National Guard had every assignment under hand. The fire was out of control, and the winds were extremely high. Workers feared the worst if the winds did not change. At one point it was reported that the fire was moving at a pace faster than any human being could run. The evacuation area was expanded to include my home. A group of us gathered in the office of Mayor Mills. There we knelt in humble prayer, asking literally, for a miracle. We asked God to do something that we had zero control over, we asked that He protect the remaining homes (three had already burned) and to change the wind direction away from our homes. It would be less than 12 hours later when we discovered just how powerfully Gods hand moved this night.

I walked outside to attempt to drive and get my family and there was simply no way. The roads were at a standstill. It was like a movie where an entire city was being evacuated and no one is moving because of traffic. I dug in at the command post, as I realized I would be there a long while. I called home, but none of the cell phones were working. I tried texting and 9 out or 10 times they bounced back to me. I had to notify my wife to get out of our home. I do not know how the idea to use Facebook came about, but I typed in my status update for Sherry to evacuate and she almost immediately saw the post. There were so many good people who expressed such loving concern for my wife and kids that I get emotional just thinking of the kindness expressed. After some frantic moments, and some fear by me, Sherry and my kids were able to fully evacuate and go to her parents.

Governor Herbert arrived at the command post and I met with him. We went together to the Herriman High School to meet with the Red Cross and the evacuees to show our support and help where we could, even if it was just helping to carry in cases of water. Water was arriving in droves, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Smiths, all bent over backwards to help. Councilman Craig Tischner used his connections with Home Depot to get them to donate dust masks, and days later, filters for 200 homes. The community was pulling together as I have never seen. I was extremely proud at that moment to live in Utah.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz arrived at the evacuation point and he connected with Governor Herbert and me for the remainder of the evening. If I can divert for a moment and tell you the funniest story. As Congressman Chaffetz and I were walking through the High School, a young man stopped him and said “I know you!” Jason shook his hand and introduced himself “Hi I am Jason Chaffetz” the man said “Ya! You used to kick for BYU right?” and Congressman Chaffetz said “yep!” To this the man said “wow, great to meet you, what are you doing now days?” I about died laughing! The man recognized him for being a BYU kicker but not a Congressman. That’s a football fan.

At around 2:30am Governor Herbert, Congressman Chaffetz, Mayor Mills and I were driven close to the fire line to view what was occurring. The flames were extremely hot, very high and showed no sign of stopping. The foreseen devastation was horrible to imagine, as we were once again told that they had 0% containment on the fire.

Governor Herbert had arraigned for he, Congressman Chaffetz, Fire Chief Jensen and myself to go up in a chopper at 6:00am to view the damage. We decided to leave so we could sleep for an hour or two before flying. Mayor Josh Mills stayed. He was not about to leave his city to go sleep, when so many were still in desperate conditions.

The next morning we met and boarded the chopper. All of us on board were prepared for the worst. We knew how devastating the fire looked just three hours before. Nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to see...Not another house had been destroyed, not one. Yes, some were damaged. But not a single home had burned to the ground with the exception of the three which had occurred earlier. Chief Jensen explained that after we had left the fire line around 2:30am, the winds had changed direction, the firemen had been able to do “back burns” to stop the fire, and one brave bulldozer driver had helped by making fire lines next to the homes.

The black charred earth was next to many homes, but the homes were still standing. The vast majority of the flames were out. Governor Herbert called it a miracle, and it was. Our prayer in Mayor Mills’s office had been heard. Not only did He change the winds, but he buoyed up the men and women who worked ALL NIGHT to help save people’s homes. There were no serious injuries reported.

The loss of the three homes is tragic, and the devastation to those families cause my heart to ache. I do not diminish their loss in any way, just to say that it was a miracle that more were not lost.

I am eternally grateful to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our homes. The firefighters, police, National Guard, and citizen volunteers. I am grateful to the community businesses who donated so much to the cause: Wal-Mart, Smiths, Home Depot, Walgreens, Pizza hut, McDonalds and I am sure there are more I am missing.

I am grateful to the Herriman city staff, Mayor Josh Mills, Councilman Tischner, Councilman Day, Councilman Robinson and Councilwoman Raquel Deluca.

God moved on Herriman that night. Of this I am certain.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved by Candace E. Salima.
Behind the scenes of the Herriman fire from my perspective- Rep Carl Wimmer Behind the scenes of the Herriman fire from my perspective- Rep Carl Wimmer Reviewed by Candace Salima on Thursday, September 30, 2010 Rating: 5