Facebook Twitter

Crews nearly contain blaze near St. George

Stretch of Old Highway 91 to Utah Hill reopened

SHARE Crews nearly contain blaze near St. George

Firefighters have nearly contained a 33,000-acre wildfire west of St. George, and officials have reopened Old Highway 91.

The highway was reopened at noon Thursday. It was closed Sunday from the Shivwits Reservation to Utah Hill because of erratic winds on the Apex fire, which no longer threatens the highway, reservation or nearby towns because flames moved north and northwest, said fire information officer Don Carpenter.

Firefighters ask travelers to drive slowly and use caution because fire trucks are also on the road. "We still don't want people going into the fire area," said Carpenter. "The rocks are unstable because the roots have burned out underneath some of them."

Also on Thursday, control lines were built around 90 percent of the fire. Full containment is expected by Monday, Carpenter said.

"It was a lot of hard work with the firefighters out there on the ground. Of course, the weather conditions without the winds has really helped," Carpenter said.

The fire lines combined with roadways and natural barriers such as cliffs will keep the fire within the perimeters.

However, the fire did manage to creep in size Thursday. On Wednesday, it was 31,000 acres. The fire is growing in areas without control lines.

About 455 firefighters and personnel are on scene. Heavy tankers that have sprayed repellent over the fire are returning to their home base in Cedar City today. Some smaller plans still will be available, Carpenter said.

The fire started last Saturday, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, by two teens playing with matches on some private land near the OMB Apex Mine. The Washington County sheriff has recommended no criminal charges in the case. But the county prosecutor will make the final decision.

Elsewhere in the state, the Woodenshoe fire has burned about 2,300 acres Thursday night, up from 1,000 acres Wednesday night, fire information officer John Daughterty said.

Daugherty attributed the fire's growth to low humidity, dry fuel and winds — similar conditions to the previous day. He said about 5 percent of the fire is contained, and crews are working to keep it from moving into Woodenshoe Canyon, a home of archaeological artifacts and some spotted owl habitats.

The fire is traveling east-northeast, and one helicopter, one engine, one crew and the Boise Hot Shots are fighting it.

The fire started a week ago today and is believed to be human-caused. A fire investigator arrived on the scene Thursday. His determination is expected in the next few days, said Moab Interagency Fire Center Assistant Manager Cheryl Carpenter.

Firefighters were victorious in the Finn Canyon fire, having achieved 100 percent control Thursday, said Becky Barrett of the Moab Interagency Fire Center said. There were plans to release everyone from the fire by this morning, she said. Firefighters will be transferred to other fires around the state, but it is unknown where.

A lightning-caused fire in the Diamond Briggs Wilderness Study Area grew to 93 acres Thursday night from 65 acres Wednesday, said Cheryl Nelsen, manager of the Uintah Basin Fire Center. The fire is 30 miles northeast of Vernal near the Utah-Colorado boarder.

The fire is on Bureau of Land Management terrain, burning on top of a remote mountain ridge that's difficult for people to access. No crews are on the ground, Nelsen said.

Water is being poured over the fire from a helicopter. A large bucket is strung to the helicopter, which dips the water from a 6,000-gallon portable tank that is collecting the water from a nearby creek, Nelsen said.

The fire was first seen Tuesday. It probably was started from lightning.

The Lonesome Beaver fire, burning in the Henry Mountains 20 miles southwest of Hanksville, Wayne County, is holding itself at 3,000 acres, said Doug Robison of the Richfield Interagency Fire Center.

The blaze has been 100 percent contained and controlled for days, but it continues to generate smoke because flames are attacking vegetation inside the perimeter, Robison said.

Lightning ignited the fire May 30.

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