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Stuart Johnson, KSL TV

Fire threatens Brian Head; town evacuated, highway closed

By Ryan Morgan  |  Posted Jun 17th, 2017 @ 11:59pm

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BRIAN HEAD — A large fire threatened the town of Brian Head, prompting the evacuation of 750 residents and visitors Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Forest Service official Mike Melton said the fire, which started around noon, and quickly grew as it spread on Dixie National Forest and BLM lands, racing up the canyon along state Route 143, which has been closed. Melton said the fire has spread through the mostly dead areas of heavy spruce and fir timber.

The fire had burned an estimated 957 acres as of Saturday night, officals said.

Traffic through the town is only open to emergency crews.

Brian Head resident David Haefner said his area was the first to begin evacuations Saturday afternoon. He and his neighbors were able to leave safely.

"It was always a concern, and that was the way that we always worried was a fire in the canyon coming up to Brian Head with the north wind," Haefner said.

The fire has been determined to be human caused but remains under investigation, according to a news release from the Forest Service. One home has been destroyed and one home damaged. Multiple homes are still threatened on the north and east side of the town near the subdivisions. The Parowan watershed was also threatened.

Bode Mecham, a Dixie National Forest official, said the fire has been fast-moving, forcing firefighters to rely on aerial efforts to fight the flames.

The fire is expected to slow during the night, Mecham said, but rise again with the warm weather on Sunday.

State and federal fire crews — involving 115 personnel — are dropping retardant from four heavy air tankers, one very large air tanker, six single-engine air tankers and several helicopters to slow the fire's progress. More teams are expected to arrive late Sunday or early Monday.

Melton said Type I hand crews have also been called in, with elite 20-man teams of firefighters using hand tools, chainsaws, pumps and hoses to limit the path of the fire wherever it is safe for them to do so.

Many local and surrounding volunteer fire departments have also responded to assist in the efforts.

Mecham said that fires of this intensity are uncommon for the time of the season, but hot weather and a lack of rain as well as lots of heavy downed trees are fueling the fire. Officials are also concerned with expected near-record heat this week.

Two other significant fires were reported by the Utah Division of Emergency Management on Saturday:

The Mack Shaft fire in Uintah County, east of Bonanza, has burned approximately 500 acres and is 0 percent contained. Firefighters from Uintah County fire departments are manning the fire, which is creating heavy, thick black smoke because part of the gilsonite mine is reported to be on fire. State Route 21 is closed along with state Route 45.

In Piute County, west of Circleville, the Choke Cherry fire has burned approximately 248 acres in Forest Service land. Type III team is working the fire. No state resources requested at this time. State Route 45 is closed.

An wildfire in Saratoga Springs also ignited Saturday evening, resulting in road closures.

Officials said units were on the scene north of Wride Highway at state Route 73. Traffic on eastbound Mt. Airey Drive and westbound Foothill was being directed due to smoke.

As of 11:30 p.m., the fire had burned 20-25 acres and was 100 percent contained, according to Saratoga Springs officials.

Officials said that crews would remain throughout the night to address hot spots.

Contributing: Sean Moody, Yvette Cruz


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