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New wildfire burns 4,000 acres near Minersville

Firefighters are working to put out a wildfire in southern Utah, already estimated at 4,000 acres, that ignited Thursday and quickly spread to threaten a town.
Firefighters are working to put out a wildfire in southern Utah, already estimated at 4,000 acres, that ignited Thursday and quickly spread to threaten a town.
Angela Barton

MINERSVILLE, Beaver County — Firefighters are working to put out a wildfire in southern Utah, estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 acres, that ignited Thursday and quickly spread within miles of a town.

It is the fifth wildfire to flare up in the state in the just two days.

After starting about 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, the blaze dubbed the Black Mountain Fire was burning about 2 miles south of Minersville in Beaver County, according to Nick Howell, public information officer for the fire.

Fire officials said the fire was sparked by a car that crashed on state Route 130 and rolled into dry grass. Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel said the driver was not driving under the influence, and it appears he fell asleep at the wheel.

The driver was taken to a local hospital and later released, Noel said.

Shannon Dotson, who was driving behind the car when it crashed, saw the driver pull himself out of the car just before the first flames took off.

"When we got him pretty far away from the car it was just a little grass on fire. Some other guys tried to put it out with a shovel. But it kind of just took off from there," she said.

Late Thursday afternoon, fire officials said the blaze was moving east of Minersville and that it does not pose "a direct threat to the town at this time."

However, some officials were concerned about a communications tower, and fire crews painted it with fire retardant and were keeping an eye it, Howell said.

A vacant cabin was also threatened by the fire Thursday night, officials said.

Les Whitney, emergency management director for Beaver County, said residents have been calling him and other officials to find out how close the fire is getting to them.

"We want them to know that we're doing our very best to take care of them and to stop this fire from crossing Highway 130 and getting on the west side towards Minersville," he said, adding that firefighters believe the highway is a good fire break.

He said in his 40 years of experience with fires, he's never seen such dry conditions.

S.R. 130 is closed while firefighters combat the fire, he said, but no evacuations are in place.

Thursday night, the fire had no containment and crews from California were "trickling in" to assist depleted resources, Howell said.

Even as firefighters respond to the new wildfire, crews across the state were working to put out four other blazes that ignited Wednesday:

• The West Valley Fire, near Pine Valley Mountain in Washington County, had burned an estimated 7,200 acres and had zero containment by Thursday night, according to Bode Mecham, public information officer for the fire.

Eight fire engines, six hand crews, three heavy air tankers, two helicopters and two helitankers were among other resources on scene at the blaze Thursday.

Late Thursday afternoon, Forest Service officials for Dixie National Forest said air operations fighting the blaze had been suspended because of high winds in the area.

Mecham said no evacuations were in place, but a fire line was being placed and fire engines were ready in New Harmony "just in case" the fire reached the town.

• The Rough Canyon Fire was estimated at about 5,400 acres Thursday night and had 15 percent containment, according to Leann Fox with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

• The Dry Canyon Fire in Parowan Canyon was an estimated 23 acres and was 80 percent contained Thursday night.

• The Fruitland Shed Fire, in Fruitland, Duchesne County, was fully contained at 20 acres Thursday, according to Mike Eriksson, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation after the Fruitland Shed Fire ignited Wednesday but was expected to recover, Eriksson said. The fire destroyed one home and a trailer that had been vacant for eight years Wednesday.

"Smoky conditions can be expected throughout the Uintah Basin due to a number of fires burning around the state," Duchesne County Sheriff's Office said.

In light of the wildfires, Gov. Gary Herbert discussed current fire dangers Thursday during his monthly KUED Ch. 7 press conference, cautioning Utahns to be "careful" and "wise," and to follow fire restrictions, especially when lighting fireworks or campfires.

"With the fireworks, with local and state fire ordinances, they are there for a reason, especially as dry as we are. That is probably our main concern from a human-caused standpoint as we approach the holiday period," he said.

Thursday afternoon, Utah fire officials posted a tongue-in-cheek map of Utah on Twitter, blocking out the entire state to remind people that lighting fireworks before July 2 is illegal everywhere.

The National Weather Service also issued a red flag fire warning Thursday for much of the state including central and southern Utah through Friday.

Addressing potential concerns of air quality damage due to smoke, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality tweeted that "most of the gunk is higher in the air column."

However, "this can change," the department warned, encouraging people to keep an eye on air conditions at air.utah.gov.

Contributing: Alex Cabrero