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Thunderstorms help, hurt firefighting efforts

Rain helps contain blazes; lightning causes more fires

SHARE Thunderstorms help, hurt firefighting efforts

Firefighters throughout Utah are getting the upper hand on some of the blazes that have ravaged tens of thousands of acres in the past few weeks, but several new large fires started over the weekend.

Crews dumped retardant to protect four homes in Big Hollow Canyon in Rush Valley, Tooele County, threatened by the 700-acre Cow Hollow fire, which started Sunday, 20 miles south of Tooele.

"We just hammered that," said Vi Hillman, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management's state headquarters in Salt Lake City. "The one home ended up getting retardant on their shed and on their horses . . . and even their home."

Fire engines guarded the houses, and crews cleared brush to better defend the homes. "For a while it was pretty tense," she said.

A total of 61 people were fighting the fire Monday, working with 16 fire engines and two water tenders.

Also new on Sunday afternoon was the Ten Mile Pass fire, about 15 miles southwest of Fairfield near Ten Mile Pass. This blaze is estimated at 5,500 acres and is 40 percent contained. A medium helicopter, four engine crews and five water tenders are fighting the fire, with 19 people altogether.

Thunderstorms can be both beneficial and harmful, as the rain and moisture help control fires at the same time as lightning can start new ones.

"We had some thundershower activity in the north overnight," William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service regional office in Salt Lake City, said Monday.

Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected in the Wasatch Front, the Uinta Mountains and southern Utah.

Temperatures are edging back up, with highs expected in the middle to upper 90s, he said, "but I don't think we're going to have any triple numbers week" along the Wasatch Front.

Lightning probably started the new fire that broke out Saturday on private land in the Monte Cristo region east of Ogden, said Kathy Jo Pollock of the Salt Lake Interagency Fire Center. The Chrournous blaze, pegged at 400 acres, was 10 percent contained on Monday.

Altogether, 13 people were fighting the fire, using three engines.

About 34 miles east of Price, two new fires started in what is termed the Bruin complex: the Bruin Point fire, 1,850 acres on private land, and the Range Creek fire, 140 acres on BLM land. Altogether, 183 people were fighting the fires, including Pollock and other management officials.

The Range Creek fire is in a wilderness study area where the land is steep and inaccessible. A big "sky crane" helicopter was dumping water on the blaze.

In Zion National Park, 10 lightning-ignited wildfires continue to blaze in the area around the park. The largest is one mile southeast of the historic cable works on Cable Mountain and the Cable Mountain Trail. This trail and others are closed to hikers.

Fires that have been burning for days or weeks include:

Wasatch Complex, Utah County: "Four of our five fires are under control at this point," said Mike Martin in Chippewa National Forest, Minn., fire information officer on the complex.

The Oak Hills fire east of Alpine, a stubborn 900-acre blaze, is in steep, rocky terrain with the upper reaches inaccessible to ground crews. The fire is 15 percent contained. "It'll probably just continue to smolder there until the area has adequate precipitation," he said.

Altogether 362 firefighters are working on the blaze, which is in check. American Fork Canyon reopened Monday morning. Timpanogos Cave National Monument, campgrounds and South Fork Canyon are to be open to the public again.

Oldroyd Complex: Located 15 miles west of Nephi. Includes Broad, West Mona, Oldroyd, Yance and the Mourning Dove fires. The fires are burning grass, brush and pinyon juniper. All fires believed to be caused by lightning but are still under investigation. Almost 60,000 acres had burned by Sunday. The Oldroyd fire is 70 percent contained with 1,329 acres burned.

Salt Lake Desert Complex: Located three miles north of Eureka and west of Salt Lake City, this includes Box Canyon, Aragonite and Bismarck fires. Crews estimate 43,972 acres have burned. Fires are 75 percent contained with an expected containment date of Aug. 6. More than 130 firefighters and personnel are battling the blaze.

Millville 2: This Logan-area fire was contained at 6 p.m. Sunday, said Pollack. In all, it burned 190 acres.

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com ; lhancock@desnews.com