Crews battling Utah's largest wildfire of the year to date are hopeful that preventative measures will contain the series of fires in Juab County that have scorched more than 22,000 acres in four days.
The Little Sahara Complex fire, comprising four working fires, is burning in a desert region of west-central Utah about 30 miles west of Nephi. The blaze began with a lightning strike June 20 and has reached a near 25,000-acre perimeter burning pinyon and juniper, sage, tanzy mustard and greasewood.Jerry Rohmert with the Great Basin Interagency Center said crews were planning on cutting 17 miles of "cat lines and black lines" to provide fire break that would control the blaze, which is northwest of the Little Sahara Recreation Center.
Rohmert explained cat lines are made with Caterpillar tractors cutting into the earth with 18-foot blades to remove any available fuel source that would feed the fire. Black lines are 200-foot wide controlled burns set by fire personnel to also remove potential burn sources.
"We're hoping to go about five or six miles in front of the fire to cut the lines," Rohmert said. "But one of the problems we're facing is heavy smoke is preventing us from getting up in the air, which also prevents us from getting an accurate number of burned acreage."
In all, more than 300 firefighters and support personnel are fighting the fires, aided by helicopters and retardant-dropping bombers. They are based inside the Little Sahara grounds.
On Sunday, fire officials concentrated efforts on the Pole Canyon fire, one of four blazes making up the complex. Rohmert said high winds fueled the fire to burn nearly 3,000 acres northwest of the sand dune recreation site. Other fires include the minor 3-acre Sunset Peak fire and the Cherry Creek fire near the Pole Canyon blaze that has blackend 300 acres.
"(The Pole Canyon) has spread to the south, east and northeast, and threatened an unoccupied homestead at the Hassel Ranch," Rohmert said. The fire came to within 200 yards of the structure. Earlier last week, the McIntyre Ranch along U-6 was also threatened, but did not sustain damage.
The fires forced the closure of U-6 between Tintic and Jericho in Juab County for two days, but it was re-opened Sunday. The Little Sahara National Recreation Area adjacent to the road remained closed, Rohmert said.
The fires are burning on state, public and private lands. Dangers to firefighters in the area include deep washes and gullies, and abandoned mine shafts. One minor injury has been reported, Rohmert said.
"The crews are pretty upbeat, considering we've been here in the heat and dust for a while," he said.