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Crews struggle against wildfires

Hot days, lack of resources hinder their Utah efforts

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With depleted resources, firefighters around the state continued battling several wildfires Friday morning.

The temperature reached 99 degrees Thursday and is expected to be the same Friday as firefighting equipment and personnel are being stretched thin.

"What it's really coming down to is unless there are structures or lives that are at stake a lot of these fires aren't going to get the things that they're asking for," said Vi Hillman, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman. "When we get into a situation like this, we have to prioritize."

Most of the wildfires, burning on all kinds of terrain, were started by lightning and do not threaten any structures.

  • The Stansbury Island Fire was contained Thursday night after burning more than 16,000 acres, almost 90 percent of the island, Hillman said.

The East Vivian fire near Heber grew from 300 acres to 1,500 acres by Friday morning, said Dave Freeland, a firefighter brought in from California as part of an interagency incident management team. The steep terrain, low humidity and high temperatures made it difficult for ground crews to control the fire, and Freeland said they have relied a lot on air tankers. Freeland said residences in nearby canyons face no "imminent danger" and there were no plans for evacuation Friday morning.

The approximately 55-acre Wallsburg fire to the east of the East Vivian fire is "not quite the threat" the East Vivian blaze is but it could balloon in size just as the East Vivian did Thursday. Neither fire had significant containment Friday morning, and Freeland said there was no estimate as to when containment would be possible. The cause of the fires are still under investigation, but it is believed they may have been started by lightning, Freeland said.

Lightning strikes caused about 10 fires on Tuesday in the Dixie National Forest and as of Friday six were still burning. The 20-acre John Allen fire, burning 13 miles northwest of Escalante, was the largest of the six.

The National Park Service reported the Phillips Ranch fire, started by lightning Wednesday, was at 500 acres, over the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Great Basin National Park. High winds and steep, rocky terrain had been determined too dangerous for suppression efforts, but ground teams were expected to start battling the blaze by Saturday morning.

A 1,200-acre fire that started Thursday at 1 p.m. on Kennecott Corp. property was contained by 5 p.m., said West Jordan Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Mertin. The cause is still under investigation.

Cheryl Nelsen, acting center manager of the Uintah Basin Interagency Fire Center, said the biggest fire they are dealing with is the Stillwater fire, a 2,800-acre blaze burning on tribal lands in Uintah County. Only four engines and one bulldozer are battling the fire, as a "lack of resources" has prevented the agency from getting more help, Nelsen said. Still, she said, "it's looking really good," and the agency has placed open orders for more assistance. Nelsen said they usually get more help if structures are threatened, and currently no building is in danger. The Stillwater fire has jumped a few roads and cottonwood trees in the interior continued to burn hot Friday morning, Nelsen said.

Uintah Basin Interagency Fire is also battling a 50- or 60-acre blaze in steep, rugged terrain on state land on Blacktail Mountain about 25 miles northwest of Duchesne.

A 15-acre fire continued to burn heavy timber on the steep slopes of the Ashley National Forest, and several small fires burned in the Book Cliffs south of Vernal. None of these fires has threatened any structures, Nelsen said. She said the fires in Uinta Basin jurisdiction were all started by lightning.

Moab Fire Center fire control officer Ron Ellingham said the center has responded to about 60 wildfires since Monday, ranging in size from one-tenth of an acre to 45 acres. He said none has been a major problem. One of these fires, a 30-acre fire near Scrabble Canyon, is about one mile north of a ranch, and the approximately 35 firefighters working to control the blaze are "keeping a close eye" on it, Ellingham said.

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com;dsmeath@desnews.com