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Wildfire crews rally to save spike site

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Box Elder County's fire departments responded in force to protect Golden Spike National Monument from a ferocious wildfire on Sunday.

The northern end of the fire, near Golden Spike, has been contained. But Dave Dalrymple, state fire management coordinator, said the southern part of the fire is roaring out of control in rough country and may not stop until it reaches a pass five miles away. The latest estimate of the size of the Fort Ranch fire is 30,000 acres.

The blaze is one of 10 or 15 fires that started in Box Elder County over the weekend because of lightning strikes and is the only one remaining out of control.

Thunderstorm cells make winds change directions quickly, potentially endangering firefighters. With strong winds, he said, fire can gobble up 1,000 acres of grasslands in less than an hour.

Tim Reeder, dispatcher for Box Elder County, said basically every fire department in the county was battling the fire over the weekend. Besides fire engines, at least two bulldozers and a road grader were thrown into the battle.

"We had everyone," added Bonni Crossen, park guide at the monument. "We had the whole county here."

Bulldozers, fire engines and even Thiokol's private fire department fought the blaze, she said.

By Monday morning, the fire was only smoldering.

The blaze reached to within half a mile or three-quarters of a mile from the visitor center. Monument officials had to turn away visitors.

About 16,000 lightning strikes were recorded in Utah's western deserts on Saturday and Sunday, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby said.

The National Weather Service issued a "flag warning" to fire managers and their crews, meteorologist Mike Conger said. Another warning may be issued for western and central Utah.

Weather conditions for the early part of the week are expected to be drier and windier than last week, Conger said.

BLM spokeswoman Susan Marzec said three fires on BLM land were contained over the weekend. They are:

Magnum Fire, 11 miles north of Delle, Tooele County, and west of the Great Salt Lake, burned more than 930 acres and threatened a magnesium processing plant owned by Magcorp. It was contained Sunday.

Monarch Fire, 15 miles north of Delle, involved 1,243 acres before being contained.

Littlefield Fire in Box Elder County involved 3,916 acres and was contained Sunday. It is 10 miles southwest of Snowville.

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