Wind-driven flames burn through 4 homes, multiple structures in St. George’s Diagonal Street neighborhood

ST. GEORGE — Fire, smoke and embers propelled by a fierce afternoon wind engulfed a St. George neighborhood bordered by 300 West and Diagonal Street on Friday, damaging multiple structures including four homes, according to the St. George Fire Department. 

The scene of a fire on Diagonal Street, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Three of those homes were heavily damaged, with two a total loss, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker told St. George News. 

“This was one of our larger ones,” Stoker said, comparing it to the kind of wildfires fought in Southern Utah’s hills and rural areas. “We had multiple embers flying from this fire and starting spot fires. Generally, you see that in rural areas.”

Stoker said there were no injuries reported. Firefighters were aided by neighbors manning their own water hoses. He said the cause of the fire and even where it exactly started is still under investigation, though it is suspected of having started in the backyard of one of the homes.

The fire, which started around 2:30 p.m., was brought under control by around 5:30 p.m., though Stoker said firefighters are expected to stay on scene through the night and into Saturday to continue mop-up operations.

Popping sounds of fuel sources and possible ammunition stores could be heard and flames could be seen in all of the windows of at least two homes in the historic neighborhood at 300 West and Diagonal.  

The fire damaged several other structures, with flying embers acting like those seen in the wildfires in hills and mountains – touching off foliage flare-ups and nearly reaching up to Hope Street a block away. On 300 West, a palm tree ignited and went up in flames.

Lorrie Wulfenstein lives on 500 North between Diagonal and Hope in the home her husband grew up in. Even though the focal point of the fire was more than 1,000 feet downhill from her home, an ember touched off a flare-up in her yard.

“I could feel the spray of the water. I saw it get that palm,” Wulfenstein said, adding that she was wowed by the massive fire and police response to the fire.

The scene of a house fire on Diagonal Street, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Multiple police and fire agencies from throughout Southern Utah answered the call to help fight the fire. Along with the thick smoke, seeing Utah Highway Patrol and fire vehicles from Dammeron Valley, Hurricane and Hildale was also an unusual sight on Diagonal Street. 

Stoker estimated seven fire agencies fought the fire and utilized at least three ladder trucks. Along with St. George Fire, Santa Clara-Ivins, Diamond Valley, and Washington City also responded to the fire. 

“One thing we have in Washington County is if a call goes out, a lot of agencies will listen,” Stoker said. “It works out really well. We get a lot of resources and manpower quick.”

Joining them were Washington County Sherriff’s Office and Dixie State Police who worked in cordoning off a large part of the neighborhood to entering vehicles and onlookers.

St. George Police is taking the lead in the investigation of the fire, though Officer Tiffany Mitchell said that doesn’t necessarily mean there is suspicion of criminal activity behind the start of the fire.

“Whenever there’s big things like this, we’ll … investigate and see if it was anything criminal,” Mitchell said, noting that the blaze ranks among the larger ones she has seen in St. George. “This was a big one. It was really scary”

A resident mans a hose, trying to keep embers from igniting a tree during a fire on Diagonal Street, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Through the flames and smoke, there were also moments of community.

Neighbors passed word to one another about where their kids were, which hotels were available and how to reach out for aid from the American Red Cross.

Stoker said several residents were seen manning their garden hoses, playing a role in quelling some of the spot fires.

“They jumped right in before we could get up there,” Stoker said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the corner of Hope Street and 500 North served as a place where displaced neighbors and others gathered, aided by the American Red Cross.

“There was just this amazing sense of community,” said Michelle Wulfenstein, Lorrie’s sister-in-law. “People coming together.”

This report is based on information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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