Thundershowers that swept through Utah late Thursday were a mixed blessing: Rain and lower temperatures brought relief from some wildfires, but lightning started others and storm winds fanned the flames.
A blanket of grayish brown smoke hung over Salt Lake Valley Friday, evidence of fires burning on Antelope Island and south of Tooele.
Lightning strikes started fires on the extreme north end of Antelope Island and in the central region high in mountainous country. "We were able to get engines on the one up north, and that's been pretty well dealt with," said David Dalrymple, state fire management coordinator.
However, the blaze on the island's central section is nearly inaccessible, and firefighters were not able to get to it Thursday. Whipped by wind off the Great Salt Lake, by Friday morning it was roaring through 2,000 acres. Light, easily ignited vegetation contribute to the hazard.
"We've got a number of different engines out there, local (fire department) engines, and we've also got some orders out for some aircraft." The planes, if available, would drop water and fire retardant on the blaze.
Ten or 15 minutes of rainstorm seemed to be "taking some of the steam out" of the Harrison fire 3 miles south of Tooele, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby said.
"We had to pull crews off it because lightning was popping all around," she said. Although crews were off the 1,000-acre blaze for a while, two air tankers and three helicopters continued to drop retardant.
The fire has burned a shed and a wildlife guzzler, a device to provide water for animals. Crews used a grader to build a fire line around a house half a mile northwest of the blaze, protecting it.
Two 20-person crews are fighting the burn.
"We'd like to have more hand crews but we can't get them," Rigby said. "There are too many things going on in the region."
One of the new blazes was within a quarter-mile of the community of Terra, Tooele County. At last report, it was contained.
Robbie McAboy of the U.S. Forest Service said the rain and humidity helped firefighters battling the state's biggest burn, the 4,400-acre Nebo Creek fire on Uinta National Forest. On Wednesday, that fire forced evacuation of 1,000 picnickers and campers on the Nebo Loop.
"Today we're mostly using hand crews, but we have had 'dozers on it," she said. About 200 crew members and two helicopters were fighting the blaze.
Southern Utah firefighters had been battling about 40 lightning-caused fires on the Arizona Strip, from Washington County all the way to the Grand Canyon. In a stroke of good luck, however, heavy rain across the area yesterday doused all remaining blazes and gave firefighters a much-needed break.
Bette Arial of the Color Country South Zone Interagency Fire Center, St. George, said the BLM's 80 firefighters were called in Thursday night after a heavy rainstorm flashed across the area, bringing with it a tornado warning.
Single engine air tankers, helicopters and two heavy air tankers from Cedar City and Mesquite, Ariz., were also on patrol. A coalition from the Forest Service, BLM and local fire companies, such as the Desert Mountain Crew from Colorado City, are on call.
The storm left parts of the region muddy and saturated with water. More thunderstorms and high winds are predicted over the next few days, which may increase fire risk.
Elsewhere in Utah:
The 60-acre Chipman Fire, 11 miles southeast of Minersville, Beaver County, was controlled Thursday at 4 p.m. Lightning started it Wednesday afternoon.
The 60-acre Bandana Fire, five miles north of the town of Fruitland, Duchesne County was sparked by lightning about 3 p.m. Thursday, Uintah Basin Fire Center manager Cheryl Nalsen said. Crews were fighting it Thursday night.
Because of dangerous, rugged terrain, crews decided to delay until Friday morning an attack on two blazes north of Helper near the U.S. 6 and U-33 junction, Moab Interagency Fire Center manager Dirk Johnson said. The first started at 7:15 p.m. Thursday and the second started at 9:30 p.m. The blazes involved about 3 acres, though Johnson said they will be quite visible to drivers in the area.
In south-central Utah, dispatchers have been inundated with reports of small fires, said Karen Feary, Richfield Interagency Fire Center logistics coordinator.