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Brian Head Fire reaches 37,560 acres, destroys 21 structures

BRIAN HEAD, Iron County — The Brian Head Fire burned 37,560 acres by Saturday morning, destroying 21 structures since it started one week ago.

The massive wildfire was still just 5 percent contained on Friday evening.

"We keep using the word 'unprecedented' because this is a crazy fire for this time of year, especially in this part of the state," said Shayne Ward, a firefighter and spokesman for Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Thirteen homes and eight outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire, though Ward said many other homes and buildings were saved thanks to the efforts of firefighters.

"It's amazing what we were able to do in a short period of time with how aggressive and extreme this fire has been," he said.

Jesse Bender, BLM fire information officer, said the lay of the land makes it hard for firefighters to work.

"It's very rocky, there are a lot of cliffs. It's very hard country to work in and to fight fires," she said.

Up to 18 mph northwestern winds are expected to hamper efforts on Saturday afternoon and evening, according to a Friday night update.

Mammoth Springs was added to the list of areas being evacuated, bringing the number of evacuated communities to nine.

One of the cabins destroyed in the Horse Valley area belongs to Alan Wade, whose family had been going there every summer for 50 years.

"It was just flames on both sides," Wade said Thursday after driving to his cabin to see what was left. "It was still burning, flames, smoke. It just made me sick."

More than 800 firefighters were in southern Utah helping fight the wildfire, including 11 helicopters, 34 engines and 23 crews. The fire had burned more than 17,000 acres by Thursday night.

Utah fire officials say the Brian Head Fire "continues to grow at an unprecedented rate."

Shifting winds blew the fire into Clear Creek Canyon and farther south near Rainbow Meadows.

More than 750 people remained evacuated Friday, including residents at Panguitch Lake, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows, Dry Lakes, Second Left Hand Canyon and the entire town of Brian Head, officials reported.

A constant haze of smoke is also having an impact on nearby communities, particularly in the morning hours.

Southern Utah University opened university dorms to displaced residents. Six apartments at a residence hall — equipped with kitchens and bathrooms — have room for up to 60 people.

Christopher Ralphs, housing director, said requests have been made to utilize the school's facilities, and the first family assigned was set to move in Friday afternoon.

The Utah Red Cross also set up shelter for wildfire evacuees at Panguitch High School, 390 E. 100 South. A community meeting at the school to provide residents with updates about the fire is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.

The wildfire was started around noon June 17 by a cabin owner using a torch to burn weeds. Prosecutors have not determined whether they will pursue reckless burning charges or seek to have the cabin owner pay back any of the estimated $1.8 milion it has cost to fight the fire.

Because of the numerous warnings about dry conditions prior to the fire, cabin owners like Wade believe something should be done.

"Now it's all gone because of one guy that was stupid that started a fire 20 miles away," he said. "When you make a mistake that affects as many people as something like this did, something has to be done."

Concern about the quickly growing fire has raised worries around the state. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who lives in Fairview, tweeted a picture from the 2012 Wood Hollow Fire, which killed one man and destroyed 160 structures in Sanpete County, including 52 homes.

"(Five) years ago I looked outside and saw this," Cox said of the photo. "47k acres and a scary evacuation changed us. Praying for those battling the #BrianHeadFire."

Smoke from the fire is spreading through southern Utah and across state lines.

Salt Lake City's National Weather Service office said on social media Friday that smoke from the Brian Head Fire will impact air quality, warning Utahns and those in neighboring states whose health is susceptible to poor air quality to limit outdoor activity.

"Besides health concerns, the spectacular vistas of southern Utah will also be affected," the service posted. "These impacts could spread well outside the state of Utah."

Meanwhile, the city of Panguitch — an area separate from Panguitch Lake, which is closed — issued a statement Friday announcing that the rural city's annual hot air balloon festival will go on this weekend as planned.

"Many people are confused given the closure of (state Route) 143, but roads into Panguitch city are still open," said Falyn Owens, executive director of the Garfield County Tourism Office. "We want to make sure everyone who was planning to go to either the balloon festival or the astronomy festival know that both of these events are still running as scheduled."

Other fires

Farmington: A brush fire above Farmington reached 100 acres Friday night, officials reported. Winds blew the fire uphill and away from homes to the border of Fruit Heights and Farmington, said Dave Millheim, Farmington city manager.

The fire started near 1500 N. Compton Road around 5:30 p.m. Friday, and no structures are threatened.

Soldier Hollow: A wildfire started by an ATV crash burned 20 acres near Soldier Hollow on Friday afternoon before crews were able to contain it, officials reported.

The wind and smoke dissipated Friday evening, Wasatch County Fire Department spokeswoman Janet Carson said, and early Saturday morning, a helicopter will draw from Deer Creek Reservoir to drop water on remaining hotspots. Officials ask boaters to stay away from the Decker Bay area during that time.

Contributing: Alex Cabrero, McKenzie Romero, Ashley Stilson