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Brian Head residents get chance to retrieve 'urgent' items as fire grows
June 18, 2017

BRIAN HEAD — The Brian Head fire marshal escorted some people back to their houses Sunday for "urgent items" only as a wildfire continues to threaten the Iron County resort town.

In the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with costs to fight the 957-acre blaze.

Brian Head was evacuated — displacing about 750 people — Saturday afternoon as the human-caused wildfire quickly spread up the canyon. One home was destroyed and another damaged.

"We saw the smoke clear from Bryce Canyon and it kept getting worse and worse," said Pat Laurienti, of Denver, Colorado. He and his wife couldn't get to their belongings because of the evacuation.

"It was a big deal for us, especially my wife has medications that were still in the condo," he said.

Firefighters from local, state and federal agencies — some from as far away as Montana and Idaho — are working to protect structures and homes in the area. State Route 143 is closed from Second Left Hand Canyon to the junction of state Route 148 near Cedar Breaks National Monument. Multiple homes are still threatened as well as a critical watershed, the agency noted.

The fire showed slow movement throughout Saturday night. Fire crews will continue to use helicopters and planes dropping fire retardant near the fire perimeter to slow the progression of the flames. More firefighting teams began to arrive in Utah Sunday, swelling the ranks to nearly 200 fighting the blaze. Crews had yet to contain the fire Sunday evening.

U.S. Forest Service official Mike Melton said the fire started around noon Saturday and spread through the mostly dead areas of heavy spruce and fir timber.

FEMA approved federal assistance after receiving the state’s request early Sunday afternoon.

Fire Fighters, both on the ground and in the air have saved lives and structures in Brianhead. They put it all on the line for us...HEROS.

— Iron County Sheriff (@ironsheriff) June 19, 2017

At the time, 75 homes and 25 businesses were immediately threatened. The fire was also threatening infrastructure, including 1,500 buildings, and four watersheds in the area, according to FEMA.

FEMA makes money available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs under a grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. The grants don't provide assistance to homeowners or business owners.

In Uintah County, officials announced that state Route 45 was reopened Sunday after a wildfire raging near the town of Bonanza on Saturday forced its closure. That fire had burned approximately 2,453 acres and was 0 percent contained on Saturday as the fire was sending thick black clouds of smoke into the air after a nearby gilsonite mine caught fire.

Contributing: Sean Moody, Freeman Stevenson