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'It's just heartbreaking': As evacuation orders lift for Dollar Ridge Fire, some return to nothing

FRUITLAND — Doug Adams already knew his cabin was gone.

But he needed to see for himself the destruction the Dollar Ridge Fire had caused to the place that he had spent every weekend, every holiday, and every extra penny for the past decade.

"I had to see what it was. I had to know. And I don't want to have to guess about it," he said. "(The cabin) was something I was really proud of and I enjoyed every minute of doing it."

Wednesday morning, the final evacuation order was lifted in an area that was among of the first to leave when the Dollar Ridge Fire began burning, and the shelter that had been set up at Duchesne High School for those displaced was closed.

The human-caused fire has burned more than 56,500 acres and was 60 percent contained as of Wednesday night. According to the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office, 74 homes have been destroyed and six more damaged, in addition to 131 camp and 81 utility trailers, 158 sheds and 25 vehicles declared total losses.

Linda Adams walks around what's left of her house in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The house was destroyed in Dollar Ridge Fire.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Linda Adams walks around what's left of her house in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The house was destroyed in Dollar Ridge Fire.

Still, some residents thought the overall count would be even worse.

"There's more cabins still standing up there than I ever thought possible," said Melinda Cloward, whose family has had property in the area for 20 years and a cabin for the past 18.

The Clowards, among the first evacuated, had been out of their cabin for over a week by Wednesday. She, like other property owners, have spent a lot of time in the parking lot of the LDS Church in Fruitland along U.S. 40. Emergency supplies were being handed out there.

But mostly, property owners congregated in the parking lot with binoculars and scopes pointed at the mountain across the street. Every roof of every cabin was memorized. They watched the fire burn from one side of the mountain to the other, all the while keeping a count on the number of roofs still visible.

Cloward said there were at least five times her cabin should have been lost.

“It took out cabin after cabin.”

"That fire rolled on top of us two or three times and down the ridge line. Due to the firefighters and the retardant and the water they dropped on the ridgeline and trying to save those structures, that's the only reason our cabin is still standing," she said.

After the wind took an unexpected shift last week, something residents say never happens, "It took out cabin after cabin. You'd just be standing here watching big black plumes of smoke and propane tanks that were going up and structure after structure, and (we were) standing by people losing everything they've worked so hard for."

Beckey Cook gets emotional while talking about the Dollar Ridge Fire during an interview in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Beckey Cook gets emotional while talking about the Dollar Ridge Fire during an interview in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

Nathan and Becky Cook have lived full-time in the affected area for the past eight years. They too thought they wouldn't have a home to return to.

"We feel blessed, you have no idea," Becky Cook said Wednesday knowing their cabin was spared.

The Cooks also spent the past week watching the fire from the church parking lot, "bawling when it was burning but helping (others) when we knew (our home was safe)."

"You were either hugging or crying or both," she said. "Some people have lost everything and some barely made it."

Adams, however, as much as he wanted to make himself see his roof peeking up on the mountainside, said he knew he was looking for something that was no longer there.

He was chopping wood on July 1 when the fire started. He got on his ATV to scout out the source and called 911.

"I watched that fire jump from ridge to ridge to ridge," he said.

Doug Adams uses binoculars to look for his house from the parking lot of and LDS church in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Adams' house was destroyed in the Dollar Ridge Fire.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Doug Adams uses binoculars to look for his house from the parking lot of and LDS church in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Adams' house was destroyed in the Dollar Ridge Fire.

Several hours later, Adams, whose cabin is on top of the ridgeline that overlooks Fruitland, was given a mandatory evacuation order by sheriff's deputies.

"It was humbling. By the time (the fire) reached down here it was just huge and angry," he said.

Adams admits that under the stress of the approaching fire and authorities telling him he had to leave right them, "I grabbed things sometimes you wouldn't even grab."

Adams grabbed a box of old pictures, a chainsaw and other materials.

On Wednesday, the St. George resident drove all morning to be at the roadblock when the evacuation order was lifted at 9 a.m. so he could see what was left. Adams' ex-wife, Linda Adams, whom he remains friends with and who also still uses the cabin regularly, met him in Fruitland and the two drove up together.

The Adamses have been building their cabin for 10 to 12 years, they said. But they have been going to that area for the past two decades. They were married on a ridge not far from where their cabin once stood.

Doug Adams takes a break while looking through the rubble of his Fruitland house for an old broken boat propeller that has sentimental value on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The house was destroyed in Dollar Ridge Fire.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Doug Adams takes a break while looking through the rubble of his Fruitland house for an old broken boat propeller that has sentimental value on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The house was destroyed in Dollar Ridge Fire.

When they reached their 10-acre property Wednesday, there was hardly anything left of the 2,500 square foot, two-story cabin.

Doug Adams said he felt "numb."

While digging through the rubble and ashes, one of the first items Adams found was a horse shoe.

"It worked really well for awhile," he joked.

As they surveyed the damage and dug through the rubble, the Adamses pulled out salvageable items that held close personal meaning.

A lantern. An old oil can. A cowbell belonging to Linda Adams' grandmother. A ceramic frog. Down the hill, where their dog was buried, the blackened remains of a cross with the name "Shadow" still visible on the wood was barely standing. Linda Adams took the brittle cross home with her.

"What do you think this was?" Doug Adams asked Linda as he continued to dig and held up an indistinguishable object that appeared to have been melted and combined with something else.

"I have no idea," Linda Adams replied.

Linda Adams looks at what's left of her Fruitland home on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The Dollar Ridge Fire destroyed her home, shed and camper.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Linda Adams looks at what's left of her Fruitland home on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. The Dollar Ridge Fire destroyed her home, shed and camper.

Some of the first things Doug Adams went looking for were old bear and coyote traps used by his father, who used to do trapping for the U.S. government in southern Utah, he said. He knew where they should be and dug them out immediately. But he spent longer searching for an old aluminum propeller, with no luck. The boat propeller had no use or monetary value, but had special meaning for Adams.

"We're sentimental, not materialistic," he said.

Next to the cabin were the remains of Adams' shed, the "Fred Shed," where he kept tools and his motorcycle. The bike was nearly unrecognizable. But Adams dug out some wrenches and crowbars that could be saved. The lock to the shed — still fully locked but no longer attached to a door or anything else — was also found.

Alex Cook carries donated water for victims of the Dollar Ridge Fire outside an LDS church in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Alex Cook carries donated water for victims of the Dollar Ridge Fire outside an LDS church in Fruitland on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

About 500 feet away from the shed, the area where the Adamses put their first trailer was also destroyed. In addition, a trailer that was given to them as a Christmas gift so they could haul a 100-gallon water tank up and down the mountain was badly burned.

But as they continued surveying their property, a flag pole still stood. Next to that, another trailer was mostly intact. In fact, many commented on how randomly the fire had burned. Some properties were spared damage, even though everything else around them was scorched.

Their neighbor to the north suffered minimal damage.

"I just lucked out," Mitch Allred said.

Allred and several other property owners stopped by to check on the Adamses and see if they could help. All of them tried to keep the mood light.

"Looks like an atomic bomb went off up here," one man told Doug Adams.

"Look what happens when you let me do the cooking," he replied.

But Adams was also gracious, making sure to tell those who were more fortunate than he was that he was happy their homes didn't burn.

After the Adamses loaded their pickup with a few sentimental items, and were told that law enforcement had been making patrols to deter looting, they drove back down to Fruitland. In the coming days, Doug Adams said he'll be contacting his insurance agent to find to what the next step will be.

"It's just heartbreaking. It really is," he said. "So many memories and love."

An earlier version incorrectly reported final evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday. They were lifted Wednesday.