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Dry conditions prompt more wildfire safety restrictions; several fires still burning

By Andrew Adams and Emiley Morgan | Posted - Jun. 5, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.


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FARMINGTON — Wildfires have been sprouting up this season at a torrid pace, and the potential for new fires is causing cities and government agencies to re-evaluate their restrictions on fireworks and fire in general.

Fire danger is always a concern for cities, but especially this year with the dry, dry conditions. Parts of Farmington in particular are not too far from a hillside that has caught fire before. So firefighters are going door-to-door to warn about the danger. They'll be knocking on 1,000 doors on the city's East side.

The city will only allow the use of fireworks in certain parks during the days they can be used and have implemented ordinances that will effect 800 homes located east of North Compton Road, 100 East, 350 East and 200 East and will also include Woodland Park.

"It's really dry out there. We're trying to be proactive instead of reactive," said one firefighter.

"We've got more fuels, we have a lot of urban interface, especially in Farmington, and that poses a significant threat," said Guido Smith, Farmington Police Chief.

They're showing people that if they live East of a red line, they can't light fireworks this year. Residents in the area don't want their homes to burn down, and they've been receptive.

"We get nervous up here because, gosh, we've lived here for six years and about every year we have a brush fire up on the mountain," said Judy Barlow. "It's a little bit scary."

On the West side of the Salt Lake Valley, Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands combs the brush for signs of moisture. They are few and far between. He says it's the worst it's been in five years, and the huge winter two winters ago has simply left behind a bigger hazard.

"It’s the dry conditions that are going to be the most impacting ingredient for our fire season," Curry said. "So, larger fires, more extreme fire behavior, seeing things like fire whirls and major spot fires coming off of fires — we've seen that (and it's) just indicator of what we're expecting to come over the season."

Restrictions on federal lands ban smoking, open fires and fireworks on the St. George side. A more complicated fire prevention order is in effect in Southeastern Utah.

"Things are so dry, fire will move more quickly, we'll have more spot fires," Curry said. And it'll be more difficult to get progress when the fire does get out there."

As for the Salt Lake Valley, city officials said restrictions should be released sometime in the next couple of weeks. They don't anticipate making a lot of changes to last year. Unified Fire said there will be no changes for now, But they reserve the right to make changes depending on how serious the situation becomes.

Firefighters were able to make headway Tuesday on the 5,000-plus White Rock fire along the Utah-Nevada border despite heavy winds.

Those winds also fueled three other fires being battled in Utah. The early start to a busy fire season is prompting fire restrictions in several areas of the state.

As many as 325 firefighters were able to reach 20 percent containment on the 5,863-acre blaze, which had swelled to 8,000 acres Monday and claimed the lives of two firefighters.

Todd Tompkins, 48, and Ron Chambless, 40, both of Boise, were killed Sunday when the P2V heavy air tanker they were flying crashed shortly after 2 p.m. They had been dropping fire retardant on the fire when their airplane apparently "made contact with the ground," according to Neptune Aviation Services, which owned the tanker.

The company said Tompkins had "faithfully served" the company since 2006 and that it was Chambless' first year with the company. Both had extensive firefighting aviation experience.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with all the family and friends of those impacted by this event," the company's CEO, Kristen Nicolarsen, said. "Todd and Ronnie were truly considered a part of our family and they will be deeply missed.”

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site Tuesday and began scouring the 600-yard debris field for clues as to what may have caused the crash. Neptune temporarily grounded its fleet Monday to allow for a debrief of mechanics and crew members, but had later resumed operations.

The White Rock fire was started by lightning near Caliente, Nev., on June 1 and spread into Utah Saturday. Firefighters are hoping for full containment by June 10.

• Strong winds hampered firefighting efforts on the Lost Lake fire near Loa and propelled the blaze from six acres Monday to 500 acres Tuesday.

"We had high, sustained winds and that's the reason for the growth," John Zapell of Fishlake National Forest said. "With the way it's going, we haven't been able to get any crews in there."

He said there is no containment on the fire, but that firefighters were hopeful they could take on the blaze Wednesday, which may have milder winds. Meantime, Zapell said a closure of Donkey Reservoir Road, south along Forest Developed Road 521 to Donkey Reservoir, north along Wildcat Trail to the Bullberry drainage and northeast to Coleman Reservoir, remains in effect.

Zappell said fire personnel are also keeping their eye on homes to the east and small towns to the north of the fire.

"Nothing is really threatened at this time, but if we get some wind shifts and some problems that may change," he said.

• Elsewhere in the state, Uintah Basin Interagency Fire Center manager Cheryl Nelsen said wind has posed a big challenge in battling two lightning-caused fires that started Sunday near the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Firewater Canyon fire is burning at 150 acres and the Wildhorse Canyon fire has reached 50 acres.

Both have "active fire behavior" and are burning in remote, rugged terrain, but neither were posing any threats to homes as of late Tuesday. Nelsen said as many as 40 fire personnel were working to contain the fires and no roads had been closed.

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Andrew Adams
    Emiley Morgan

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