Drone sighting grounds aerial attack of 600-acre Wasatch Co. wildfire

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DEER CREEK STATE PARK — A human-caused wildfire raging near Deer Creek Reservoir in Wasatch County continued to grow Tuesday, reaching 600 acres as fire crews battled canyon winds and tried to wrest control over the blaze.

The Wheeler Fire remained about 5 percent contained Tuesday night, unchanged from late Monday, said Mike Eriksson, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. The fire was not threatening homes or businesses.

Eriksson said fire crews were wary of strong canyon winds spreading the wildfire. High temperatures, dry conditions and rugged terrain were also making the fire difficult to combat, he said.

About 230 firefighters were fighting the blaze late Tuesday. Helicopters used water from Deer Creek Reservoir to dump water over the flames, before a drone sighting Tuesday evening caused all firefighting aircraft to be grounded for the day.

Drone was spotted over the #WheelerFire. All aviation resources have been grounded due to safety concerns. IF YOU FLY WE CANT!!!! — GBCC News and Notes (@GreatBasinCC) September 9, 2015

> All aerial firefighting has come to a halt on the [\#WheelerFire](https://twitter.com/hashtag/WheelerFire?src=hash) due to a drone in the fire area. > > — UtahFireInfo (@UtahWildfire) [September 9, 2015](https://twitter.com/UtahWildfire/status/641417195134717952)

"It's really unsafe; it can cause safety issues for our aviation folks and for our (crews) on the ground," said Kim Osborn, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

Osborn said she anticipated helicopters will fight the fire from the air again beginning Wednesday morning, barring another drone sighting. The Wasatch County Sheriff's Office continued to look for the pilot of the drone in question and asked anyone with information about the case to call their agency at 435-654-1411.

Fire investigators believe the wildfire is human-caused, but Eriksson said exactly what ignited it is still being determined. Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner has said authorities were trying to determine whether an ATV that burned in the fire may have been related to the cause.

Nearby state Route 92 was closed to through traffic.

"We don't want people to put themselves in a place where there might be a compromise to their safety," Bonner said.

Winds pushed the fire gradually away from residents of the small Canyon Meadows subdivision about a mile away, but residents there were put on alert.

Jay Gould, who lives in a tiny nearby community called Riverbend, was kayaking Monday when he first noticed smoke from the Wheeler Fire. He and his neighbors are worried about the fire's proximity, Gould said.

"We're obviously concerned about it. About 4 a.m. I woke up with my eyes burning," he said. "You just wonder which direction it's going to go."

Pine Valley fire

Meanwhile, a wildfire in southern Utah quickly spread to 300 acres after igniting Tuesday afternoon. Oak Grove Campground near the small town of Leeds in Washington County was evacuated because of the fire, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Marcia Gilles.

#PineValleyFire near Leeds is 80 acres & growing, lightning caused, 0% contained. Resources arriving, no structures threatened. — UtahFireInfo (@UtahWildfire) September 8, 2015

Lightning sparked the blazes, Gilles said. None of the fire was contained Tuesday evening.

Four engines from federal and state agencies were immediately sent to the fire. Five aircraft, including a supervising plane, and three additional ground units were also requested to assist.

No buildings were threatened by the fire, dubbed the Oak Grove Fire. It is located on steep terrain, which quickly created problems for responding firefighters, Gilles said.

Contributing: Geoff Liesik, Ashley Kewish


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