Damage from Brian Head Fire not done yet

Damage from Brian Head Fire not done yet

(Stuart Johnson, KSL TV)

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BRIAN HEAD, Iron County — After burning for more than a month, destroying more than a dozen homes and covering about 72,000 acres, the Brian Head Fire is 95 percent contained, fire officials said.

But the damage is far from done.

“There’s a lot of rehab work,” Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said Tuesday on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show." "The aftermath is shocking."

Efforts to contain the fire cost about $34 million, a price Adams said "would be disastrous" for the small, rural county to pay.

Thankfully, he said, Iron and Garfield counties both received help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will cover 75 percent of the fire's price tag. The state is funding the other 25 percent.

However, $34 million is just the beginning of the damage when factoring in the cost to Iron and Garfield counties and those who live and work there.

“Beyond just putting the fire out, there’s the air quality impacts, the water quality, the fishery, the tourism industry, and all of the other things, and they all fit into the economy,” said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. "Those effects linger for years and years."

The fire that has been burning since June 17 was 95 percent contained, according to latest figures from fire officials. But costs are expected to climb through the summer, Curry said.

Even when the fire is completely contained, it will be patrolled regularly by helicopter to make sure it doesn't spread out of control, he said.

“We have to be vigilant. We have to watch it," Curry said, adding that he expects that the wildfire won't be completely out until snow starts to fall in the area.

The immediate impacts have been devastating for the people of Iron County, Adams said. In all, 21 structures have been destroyed, including 13 homes.

"They had to leave their homes," he said. "It was just killing them."

Because the Brian Head area relies heavily on tourism, Adams said one of the most troubling effects was the lack of summer tourists over the past month.

"People just flock here and to our neighboring counties in the summer,” he said, noting the area's proximity to southern Utah attractions and Las Vegas. "It's a year-round resort."

Despite 72,000 acres being damaged by fire, Adams said, the Brian Head area has retained its beauty.

“You’re not gonna drive into Iron County and see total devastation. It’s still very beautiful," he said, encouraging visitors to the area.

While officials have declared the fire as human-caused, they have not publicly identified those responsible.

"We do look at what’s next in terms of how we can recover some of those costs (from those responsible)," Curry said. "These are taxpayer dollars."

Getting some justice, however, can be tricky.

“We don’t find a lot of billionaires behind these fires, so there’s not a recourse to go after," Curry said. "On the other side of that, we don’t run a business of putting people out on the streets and bankrupting their entire existence. But at the same time, there has to be some justice.”

For those who plan to use fireworks over the upcoming Pioneer Day holiday, do so safely and legally, fire officials said.

“Our human-caused fires do go up when we have holidays," Curry said. "We saw dozens of fires on the Fourth, and coming up here on the 24th, we’re gonna be ready."

Alison Berg is a Deseret News intern and journalism major at Utah State University. Contact her at aberg@deseretnews.com.


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