UTAH COUNTY — About 1,000 people were evacuated Wednesday from campgrounds in the Nebo Loop area because of a wildfire that has already burned more than 800 acres.
The fire started Monday when lightning struck dry brush south of Spanish Fork Canyon and quickly spread north. Three air tankers dropped fire retardant on the fire Wednesday and helicopters circled above the blaze dumping water, but officials from the U.S. Forest Service say they have no control over the fire and do not know when it will be contained. Approximately 200 firefighters, from Utah, Idaho and Nevada, are battling the blaze.
Two of the air tankers have been diverted to fight fires in southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Nebo Creek fire is burning in an area thick with vegetation and is expected to continue to spread north today.
Steep terrain in the canyon and erratic winds, which sometimes blew the fire toward firefighters Wednesday, have hampered containment efforts. When the fire advanced within two miles of the Blackhawk campground, U.S. Forest officials decided to evacuate the area.
Nearly 1,000 people were evacuated from eight campsites in the area. No campers were injured because of the fire, but one firefighter cut his leg Wednesday with a chain saw. He is in good condition.
In addition to the Blackhawk campground, forest officials have closed the following campgrounds: Maple Bench, Payson Lakes, Tinney Flat, Trumbolt, Devil's Kitchen, Bear Canyon and Ponderosa.
While the fire is not burning near any homes, Uinta Forest officials worry that it could destroy campground facilities. The fire is threatening facilities in the Blackhawk campground, which includes flush toilets, paved parking and equestrian trails.
The Nebo Loop, a road that runs through the Uinta National Forest near Mount Nebo, and adjoining roads in the canyon have been closed.
Local crews have been relieved from the fire to tend to grass fires or fires caused by fireworks in the valley, should they occur. A multi-agency incident management team is now battling the blaze and has asked for 40 more firefighters.
Heavy winds pushed clouds of smoke across the valley Wednesday afternoon, sprinkling ash from Mapleton to Orem.
The Nebo Creek fire is the largest wildfire this year in Utah County. Uinta Forest officials have declared a stage-one fire restriction, which prohibits open fires or the use of charcoal in undeveloped camping areas. Open fires are permitted in developed campsites with a fire ring.
At this point, forest officials are confident the fire will not reach any homes, but they are concerned it will affect water quality in the area.
Reduced vegetation could cause soil to run into streams, which could threaten drinking water and the Bonneville cutthroat trout population, said Kathy Jo Pollock, information officer for the fire management team.
Forecasted thunderstorms in Utah County this week could help — or hinder — fire containment near Nebo Creek, Pollock said. Rain would obviously help, but lightning strikes could cause more wildfires.