Evacuation orders lifted as crews work to put out fire

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A large wildfire caused quite a scare in Moab last night and through much of today. Tonight, things are looking better. Firefighters lifted all evacuation orders this evening and declared there's no longer a threat to homes.

When the flames blew up in the night -- up to 60 feet high -- it frightened people in nearby campgrounds and a motel.

"It was really scary in the early hours because it was really burning out of control," said Bill Snyder, vice president of operations for Archway Hotel.

In the daytime, the threat there diminished as winds pushed the fire largely away.

"As the winds get gusty, it really flares up, pushes hard in every direction. We have fire spread occurring on all fronts on the south end," said Brian Mattox, with the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze burned through the Moab Slough, now called the Matheson Nature Preserve. By afternoon, it burned close to several Moab homes.

"The fire behavior is extreme. The area known as the Matheson Preserve is extremely hard to get into. We definitely can't get any vehicles in there, and we're having problems getting our firefighters in there," said Moab Valley Fire Chief Corky Brewer.

By late afternoon, the wind settled down and the threat to homes diminished.

"The Nature Conservancy and the state had planned to burn this very piece of ground this fall. They had scheduled it for a prescribed burn, so this just beat us out," Mattox said.

Much of the vegetation is dead or dying tamarisk, an invading species from Asia which experts have been trying to wipe out along the Colorado River.

Recently, they introduced an imported beetle, which has killed or damaged vast acreages of tamarisk.

"The vegetation that's carrying the fire is that dead beetle-killed material," Mattox said.

But Mattox says the beetle project shouldn't be blamed for the wildfire. "The thing is, the tamarisk, whether it's alive or dead, is a major fire risk," he said.

There are 83 firefighters assigned to the fire this evening. Only a handful will be on duty tonight, but the rest plan to be back in the morning.

About 450 acres burned so far. Firefighters are hoping to keep it from going much further.

This is the second fire to break out in the 900-acre wetland preserve this year. In July, a fire was sparked by lightning and burned 89 acres. Crews were able to get that one under control quickly.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com


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