No Road Carnage This Time Around

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

A winter storm just before Christmas snarled highway traffic for miles when DPS delayed closing the road, but this week’s storms delivered only flurries of snow and rain.

Unlike the Dec. 22 storm that dropped a foot of snow in some parts of the Rim Country, clogging roadways and stranding motorists for miles along Highway 260, this week’s storm proved more of a washout than a whiteout.

The National Weather Service says the weak system moved through town Tuesday releasing snow on the Rim and a bit of rain in town. Another front on Wednesday produced only flurries. By New Year’s Eve, forecasters predicted highs in the 50s — just in time for the evening’s revelry.

For the Hellsgate and Christopher Kohl’s Fire Departments, this is welcomed news.

On Dec. 22, both firehouses helped hundreds of motorists dislodge themselves all along Highway 260 in one of the worst messes of cars any of the rescuers had seen in that area.

Christopher Kohl’s Fire Chief Electra VanEckhoutte estimated her staff helped 150 vehicles in eight hours from milepost 275 to 285, roughly 25 miles east of Payson. In the 10 years she has lived in the area, VanEckhoutte said, “it was the worst I have ever seen it.” Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch agreed with VanEckhoutte, saying cars were sliding everywhere.

“It was so slippery you could hardly stand up without falling down,” Hatch said.

Cars and tractor-trailers began sliding off the roadway around 2 p.m. when heavy snowfall blanketed the highway. Hatch said they called DPS to close the roadway, but DPS waited until 3 p.m. to do so. By then, several tractor-trailers were stuck in ditches and others had skated across both lanes of traffic, blocking traffic in both directions.

The first cars and trucks that got stuck set off a chain reaction for miles on the highway.

VanEckhoutte and six firefighters used every available truck to pull motorists out of the snow, which was building by the hour.

“When we arrived, there was half an inch of snow. When we left, there was 12 inches,” she said.

“The road needed to be closed and it was not.”

The situation was exacerbated because tow trucks needed to move the tractor-trailers could not get up the highway because cars were blocking their access.

“We could get cars out of the ditches, but could not get them off the mountain,” she said.

Starting from milepost 265, near Ponderosa Campground, Hatch, another firefighter and DPS began turning vehicles around and sending them back to Star Valley.

Hatch said he planned to only help for an hour, but was still moving cars six hours later. Rescuers dislodged the last cars at around 11 p.m. and reopened the road the next morning around 5 a.m.

Hatch said he went down to the Circle K in Star Valley and told motorists camping out in their cars that the road was finally clear.

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