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Beaver residents say they're sick from Twitchell fire smoke

By Sam Penrod | Posted - Sep. 30, 2010 at 6:17 p.m.



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CENTRAL UTAH -- Thick, smelly smoke is becoming too much for people who live near the Twitchell Canyon fire. Residents have had enough.

The fire has consumed more than 44,000 acres. Over the past 10 days it's doubled in size.

The Forest Service initially decided to let the lightning-caused fire burn but is now actively fighting it.

Twitchell Fire Facts
Started date: July 20, 2010
Cause: Lightning
Estimated size: 42,427 acres
Percent contained: 28
Number of firefighters: 433

The fire has been burning for 70 days now, but over the past few weeks -- especially the past few days in Beaver County -- tempers are fuming from the fire that is burning out of control and residents say is sickening them from all of the smoke.

More firefighters headed out to battle the Twitchell Canyon fire Thursday, which was ignited July 20. They are dealing with hot and windy weather, which is keeping the fire alive.

"We've had four wind events that have picked up the fire and carried it quite a distance," said Ken Malgren, fire public information officer. "So the hot temperatures and low humidity, we've really got great burning conditions."

In Beaver, the landmark "B" on the hillside east of town is barely visible from Main Street. Smoke has completely filled the valley in recent weeks.

"I have itchy eyes and a little bit of a sore throat," said Beaver County resident Ursula Cartensen. "I have noticed today there have been several senior citizens in their vehicles driving around with masks on."

Road Closures
The following roads are closed to provide for public and firefighter safety:
  • Forest Road 119 Indian Creek Road at the west Forest boundary
  • North Wildcat Creek Road (Forest Road 435) at the intersection with the Frontage Road
  • Mud Spring Road also known as Brush Hollow Road (Forest Road 597) at the intersection with the Frontage Road
  • The Frontage Road east of Interstate 15 at the Sulphurdale Exit
  • The Frontage Road south of Interstate 70 at the Cove Fort Exit
  • Shingle Creek Road (Forest Road 114) south of intersection with Highway 4/Clear Creek Road
  • Forest Road 1026 and Forest Road 1027 south of Interstate 70 at Ranch Exit 7
  • Forest Road 113 south of Interstate 70 at Fremont Indian State Park Exit 17
  • Forest Road 113 at Upper Kimberly junction with Max Reid ATV Trail
Castle Rock Campground remains under evacuation

The stink of the smoke is frustrating people, too. Everything inside their homes smells like a campfire, and the local sheriff keeps getting complaints.

"When you breathe this 24 hours a day, day after day, it starts to wear on people," said Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel. "They're tired of it."

The Forest Service is defending its decision to let the fire burn initially.

"I don't understand it," Noel said. "Let's get the thing put out. "People are sick of it."

A national incident team with 500 firefighters is now on the scene and working to extinguish it.

"The decision was primarily to manage it and kind of hold back a little bit because of safety concerns for firefighters," said John Zapell with the U.S. Forest Service.

But local officials remain upset with the Forest Service for not getting involved much sooner, as residents keep suffering from the fire.

"They had the resources at the time to put the fire out. They chose not to do that," Noel said. "They've done that in years past, and they chose not to put these fires out. And I think that's their responsibility to do that."

Noel isn't sure any air quality readings have been measured in Beaver, but in his words, everyone knows what they are breathing is terrible for their health.

People in Beaver hope for at least a change in the wind very soon so they can breathe easier again.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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