Huge boulders rumble down Y Mountain, one destroys cottage

Caleb Warnock DAILY HERALD

A 10-ton boulder ripped open a two-story, stand-alone mother-in-law home on Provo's east bench just after 5 p.m. Thursday.

No one was in the cottage at the time, and no one was injured, but the structure at 1468 East Maple Lane was destroyed.

The boulder was the largest of several dozen that thundered down the mountain together, said neighbor Landon Densley, who witnessed
the rockfall.

Emergency crews speculated that the boulders may have started as one large chunk that dislodged from the cliffs at the top of Y Mountain, breaking apart as it shot down the mountainside.

The boulder that hit the cottage was about 7 feet by 7 feet by 7 feet. Huge gouges along the mountainside showed the path the boulder had followed, often bouncing through the air for 50-foot stretches, leaving 12-foot-long, 6-foot-wide and
3-feet deep scars when it touched down.

Emergency crews speculated that the original chunk of rock could have been 35 feet long and 35 feet deep when it broke off the mountain. Other chunks as large as pumpkins and televisions littered the mountainside, leaving their own scar trails.

After the boulder tore through the building, a 40-foot pine tree appeared to have stopped it from continuing across the street and through other east bench homes. A second boulder just smaller than the first stopped feet before hitting the structure.

The apartment was so destroyed it was impossible to tell immediately whether the lower story had been a garage or living space. The force of the boulder pushed the second-floor balcony against the roof of the main house. The main home is being rented.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. stopped by the home Thursday evening. He was in Utah County to visit the Cedar Hills landslide site.

"I'm saddened by the damage that this has caused the homeowners, but it is once again a reason why we all need to be ever vigilant during this period of our state being waterlogged," he said of the boulder's damage. "This is a once-per-generation weather event that's occurring in our state. We're likely to see more of these kinds of things, sadly."

Huntsman said a geological surveyor would visit the site to see if there were any more concerns.

Densley was in the home just down the street when he heard a thundering and felt the earth shake, he said. Having lived in the area for years, he knew what was happening and went to the window just in time to see the boulders streaming down the mountainside.

Densley began walking through his neighbor's back yards, checking to see if they had been hit. When he got to the last house, three down from his own, he found five large boulders had landed in the back yard. Then he saw the destroyed house.

"I heard the crashing of glass," he said. "When I saw it, the house was still falling."

Emergency crews showed up moments later, he said.

Ironically, the destroyed apartment had been vacant for three months because of a dispute with an adjacent landowner, who feels the house encroaches on his land, which he would like to develop, Densley said.

The property owner had wanted the house torn down, he said with a laugh.

"It's obvious this is not a place to build a house, in the middle of an active boulder field," he said. "It's not the wisest place to put your new mansion."

Those who live along the benches have grown used to smaller boulders coming down into their yards from time to time -- although not of the size or number that came down Thursday, he said.

The last came down about two months ago, and hit another home in the area without doing significant damage, he said. No one was hurt in that incident either.