A change in the weather is bringing both relief and new challenges to crews fighting Utah's wildfires.
Rain that fell overnight Monday slowed fire activity in Utah's largest fires, in Tooele County, but kept crews in camp Tuesday morning because the moisture created safety problems for firefighters that would have had to battle mud and rolling rocks in steep terrain.And in Salt Lake County, volunteers from the Utah National Guard are training for firefighting duty and will be given the charge of protecting populated areas along the Wasatch Front.
Heat-weary Utahns, looking for a long-overdue respite to record-breaking temperatures, woke to cooler temperatures and rain Tuesday morning. And, despite the prolonged dry spell, they apparently had no trouble adjusting to the wet commute. Law enforcement reported no higher-than-normal traffic problems.
William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service, said a tropical surge that moved into the state Sunday brought rain to many parts of Utah late Monday and through the night into Tuesday morning.
Beaver reported the most rain, receiving .62 inch Monday afternoon in 30 minutes. American Fork came in second, recording .32 inch overnight. Kearns followed with .26 inch. Manti recorded .1 inch.
"The amounts have not been terribly impressive, but any rain we get this summer is a lot," Alder said.
Utah's spell of triple-digit temperatures will be broken Tuesday, with the high in the Salt Lake area expected to peak near 90.
Moisture will likely reach Bear Lake later Tuesday, near where a wildfire has burned almost 4,000 acres at the upper end of Logan Canyon. Tooele received .06 inch of rain, but fire officials said enough rain fell on the East Harker fire complex south and west of Tooele to both slow the fire and create hazards for firefighters working on the ground.
"They actually got wet enough that they have some weather-related problems this morning and will probably be keeping most of the crews in camp until it drys out," said Interagency Fire Center spokesman Dick Kline.
The East Harker Complex fire includes the Rilley fire, which is burning almost entirely in a BLM wilderness study area in south Tooele County near the Nevada border. The study area includes an ancient stand of bristlecone pine trees threatened by the fire over the weekend, but the fire changed direction Monday. "The movement of that fire is now in the opposite direction from where the stands of bristlecones are," Kline said.
Overnight rain also helped slow fires burning in central Utah and kept several new lightning-caused fires near Mount Pleasant in Sanpete County from growing.
But Alder said the reprieve will end before the weekend. "It looks like it will be fairly wet today through tomorrow (Wednesday), then drier thereafter."
Volunteers from the National Guard began firefighting training at Camp Williams Monday and should be ready for duty as early as Wednesday, said state fire management coordinator Gary Cornell.
Gov. Mike Leavitt asked the Guard for 150 volunteers to help reinforce the state's strained firefighting resources. More than 160 responded, and about 125 of those reported to Camp Williams for training Thursday.
Cornell said firefighting resources in the state are so spread out that no crews are available to respond quickly if a fire breaks out along the Wasatch Front, as was the case last week when a fire in Weber Canyon threatened one subdivision and prompted a voluntary evacuation in South Ogden.
Cornell said other fire officials might persuade him to assign a few of the Guard members away from the Wasatch Front. "But they'd have to do some pretty hard selling to convince me to assign many of them elsewhere," he said.
Several of the Guard members interviewed during training Monday said they volunteered because the help was needed and because the timing fit with the summer break from school. But some left regular jobs to volunteer.
"My boss said he would hold my job but he might have to hire somebody to replace me while I'm gone - I might have to wait a while for work when I get back," said Ogden resident Anthony Armstrong, who operates heavy equipment with the Guard.
Army Guard member Jennifer Turner said she volunteered because the firefighting duty fit in with what she always envisioned the National Guard's role to be.
Mireya Barragan, a Brigham Young University student, and Doug Owen, a Pleasant Grove High School teacher, said the timing of the call made it possible for them to volunteer.
"We were told to expect the work to last at least two weeks. I probably wouldn't have volunteered if it would have interfered with the start of school," Owen said.
Col. David Grangroth said the Guard has already provided some helicopter support for firefighting efforts in the state and will provide trucks to move the Guard volunteers around. The Guard may provide additional volunteers, helicopter and heavy equipment support if it is needed.
East Harker Complex fire - has burned 14,100 acres, 12,500 in Forest Service and BLM land 35 miles south of Tooele, and 1,600 acres in southern Tooele County near the Nevada border in a BLM wilderness study area. The fire had threatened an ancient bristlecone pine stand but has since turned. Rain overnight Monday slowed the fire. CAUSE: Lightning. STATUS: Containment expected Wednesday.
Dry Canyon Fire II - started a little south of Randolph Tuesday and threatened the town over the weekend. The fire had burned 10,240 acres by Tuesday. CAUSE: Lightning. STATUS: Contained Sunday evening with control expected Tuesday.
Edgar fire - has burned 3,950 acres since its start Tuesday southwest of Bear Lake in the upper end of Logan Canyon. CAUSE: Lightning. STATUS: Containment Tuesday.
Black Willow Springs fire - has burned 12,000 acres in pinion and juniper trees since its start Tuesday on the Fishlake National Forest 12 miles northeast of Oak City in Millard County. No structures threatened, but fire officials are issuing warnings to ranchers. CAUSE: Lightning. STATUS: No containment estimate yet.