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Brian Head Fire size doubles, threatens scout camp

BRIAN HEAD, Iron County — A wildfire that shut down a popular resort town and torched a home nearly doubled in size Tuesday evening, threatening a Boy Scout camp north of the blaze.

The flames were sparked Saturday by a cabin owner doing yard work with a torch used to burn weeds, Utah officials said earlier in the day.

Crews were battling the flames as winds picked up late Tuesday, pushing the blaze toward the empty camp, said Bureau of Land Managment spokeswoman Erin Darboven.

"We do have resources in place trying to protect the camp," Darboven said, adding she did not know far the camp was from the fire.

The evacuation of 750 people from the town of Brian Head was still in effect as the fire burned across 1,800 acres and was 15 percent contained. Crews were lighting backfires to diminish fuel that could allow the fire to spread.

Investigators have identified the person who used the torch on private property, but have not yet finished their investigation, said Jason Curry, spokesmen for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said he has yet to begin weighing charges.

In Utah, reckless burning is a misdemeanor crime that can lead to a conviction even if the suspect has a permit. The person who ignited the blaze could be on the hook to cover the $1.8 million cost of the fire if a judge determines he or she was reckless in igniting or failing to stop the blaze.

A blaze of nearly the same size was burning in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles and was 10 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities blame heavy spring rainfall for creating kindling across the West. It takes only a week for dry summer heat to transform lush, low-altitude meadows into tinder fields, said Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

As more people move from cities to the wildlands, Gardetto's agency warns them to clear any brush in the yard and avoid sparking any outdoor flames in hot, dry areas.

Gov. Gary Herbert agrees.

"We are having too many man-caused fires," he said during a news conference announcing fire restrictions in five southern Utah counties starting Wednesday.

Herbert wrote in a tweet that the fire's cause was a propane torch used to kill weeds. Herbert surveyed the blaze from a helicopter and urged fire safety in dry conditions at a news conference in Brian Head.

According to The Associated Press, one firefighter suffered a concussion and another a puncture wound.

On Saturday, Kristi Phillips and her husband were installing new appliances in their new condominium when a delivery driver mentioned black smoke in the distance. Within 45 minutes, the flames were visible and a megaphone ordered them to evacuate.

They pair stayed with friends nearby before returning to their main home in Las Vegas, she said.

The fire is keeping visitors away Brian Head businesses that rely on summer tourism.

Rolane Grinnell, owner of Brian Head Outdoor Adventure, said his business is losing thousands of dollars of income.

"We're having to turn our guests away," Grinnell said.

Contributing: The Associated Press, Nicole Vowell