Dry lightning strikes during the weekend ignited two major new fires in Grand County just miles from the Diamond Peak blaze, which has consumed 12,500 acres.
The Diamond Peak fire is the largest uncontained fire burning in the 48 contiguous states, according to Mary Plumb, fire information officer for the Moab District of the Bureau of Land Management. Four major forest fires, including Diamond Peak, have blackened more than 22,000 acres in eastern Utah.Lightning strikes also sparked five fires in Utah County, and firefighters in Ashley National Forest areas near Vernal, Roosevelt and Duchesne also were kept hopping, trying to nip small lightning-caused fires in the bud during the weekend.
The largest new fire in Utah is in the Ryan Creek area 30 miles southeast of the Diamond Peak fire on the south side of I-70. It is just inside the Utah border, and crews are being hampered because the Colorado and Dolores rivers make the area inaccessible. Crews have to travel to the Grand Junction area to get to the fires.
Plumb said reports Monday morning indicated that the Ryan Creek fire is moving into Colorado toward the Pinyon Mesa area.
She said fire crews from Grand Junction, Colo., were dispatched to the blaze, which by late Sunday had consumed approximately 1,500 acres.
"It's very similar in nature to the way the Diamond Peak fire started," Plumb said. Since the area affected is not in a wilderness area, four bulldozers have been sent to begin cutting firebreaks.
A second fire was spotted in the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area just south of the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation.
The Diamond Peak fire just north of I-70 near the Utah-Colorado border is considered 80 percent contained and officials expect full containment late Monday. Efforts are still concentrated on the south and southwest flanks of the fire to keep it from spilling into the 50,000-acre Utah Roadless Area.
Plumb said the aerial reconnaissance team over the Ryan Creek fire reported a fire storm to 15,000-feet elevation at one point. She said crews described it as a funnel cloud of fire that rose to 15,000 feet.
Plumb said fire officials have not given an estimate on when they hope to contain the Rattlesnake and Ryan Creek fires.
Ray Tate, information officer for the Ashley National Forest, said crews contained the 1,950-acre Six Mile Creek fire southwest of Duchesne late Saturday.
Merle Young, fire information officer, Ashley National Forest, said Monday that crews were mopping up that area. She said the Rough Canyon fire had burned 2,375 acres before it was contained.
Tate said several dry lightning strikes Saturday night kept crews hopping, but flyovers Sunday indicated no new major fires.
A few small fires were started throughout the Uintah Basin on Sunday, but initial attack crews were able to put the fires out before they spread, Young said.
The Uinta Canyon blaze north of Roosevelt had burned about 5,000 acres by Monday and was 50 percent contained. Controlled burns on Saturday and Sunday were successful in widening firebreaks and pushing the fire into a containment line built by handcrews.
Uinta National Forest crews awoke Sunday to find five lightning-caused fires.
The largest was a 100-acre blaze in Ray's Valley, part of the Diamond Fork area west of Strawberry Reservoir. A 40-man crew dispatched to the fire hoped to have it contained by noon Monday and controlled by 6 p.m. High winds that pushed the fire up a drainage area began to abate Sunday afternoon, aiding the effort.
Twenty acres were on fire in Chicken Hollow, also in the Diamond Fork area, said Loyal Clark, information officer. The area is inaccessible to vehicles, and a 12-man crew of smoke jumpers has been dropped in to fight the fire.
A small fire, less than an acre in size, was also spotted in the Teate Mountain area of Diamond Fork. Crews had it contained and controlled by midnight Sunday.