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Lightning sparks new fires

Blazes across the state are scorching thousands of acres

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A new wildfire in Utah County is close enough to homes that residents can see the smoke. It is among the fires scorching thousands of acres throughout Utah, from Stansbury Island to Fishlake National Forest.

At least a dozen new fires were started by lightning strikes Wednesday, said Vi Hillman of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday's scorching high of 102 contributed to firefighters' woes. The temperature will be "probably not quite as warm" on Thursday, reaching the upper 90s, said William B. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service regional office in Salt Lake City.

One of the most worrisome blazes is the Vivian Park fire east of Heber. "Currently it's probably 300-plus acres, but it has a lot of potential (for damage) because of the type of vegetation it's burning in," said Dave Freeland of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., who is part of a team brought in to manage fires in northern Utah.

The blaze is near U.S. 189, not far from South Fork Canyon, where there are about 20 homes, Freeland said. "They can see the smoke from their homes in the canyon," he said.

Lightning started the fire on Wednesday, and it has been roaring through grass, oak and brush. Low daytime humidity, high temperatures and the potential for wind are concerns for firefighters.

Four 20-person crews are using hand tools to fight the fire, and a helicopter is available to drop water.

The Stansbury Island fire has grown to 5,100 acres, Hillman said Thursday. "It burned very actively all day yesterday," she said.

Altogether, 78 firefighters are battling that blaze, which was pegged at 50 percent contained. Dry fuel caused the fire to spread rapidly. Back-firing contained some of the fire, but that operation necessarily increased the burned acreage.

A single-engine air tanker with a capacity of 500 gallons dropped retardant, refilling at the Tooele airport. A larger air tanker joined the fray for a time Wednesday, she said, but was diverted to a more urgent fire.

Four miles west of Scipio, Millard County, a blaze called the Yance Canyon fire is 30 percent contained. Lightning started the fire on Saturday. Steep terrain has limited access to the blaze, which is in Fishlake National Forest. Hillman said 251 people are battling it, using nine fire engines and two helicopters.

Two large fires have been contained near the Utah-Nevada border. The grassy fire, which began on Sunday, has consumed 4,500 acres about 50 miles southwest of Garrison, Millard County. The Rough Canyon fire, 50 miles southeast of Garrison, burned 2,000 acres.

Hillman said in the BLM's Cedar City district, six new fires started on Wednesday, for a total of 20 acres; in the Moab district, seven fires burned six acres.

Throughout the BLM range, she said, the backcountry has "extreme fire danger. Every single area."

The Big Cottonwood Canyon fire near Salt Lake City is contained. Freeland said it probably will be declared controlled on Thursday. Crews there are working to reduce risk of erosion from the blackened terrain.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com