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Ranchers help fight Box Elder wildfire to protect their livelihoods

HOWELL, Box Elder County — Bale hay at night, fight fire during the day.

Many ranchers near the Utah-Idaho border are sacrificing sleep to their new routine in the days after lightning sparked a 15,046-acre wildfire on grazing land in remote Box Elder County.

"We just run until we're exhausted, and then we kind of try and recoup a little bit," Box Elder County Fire Marshal Corey Barton said of those volunteering to help fight the fire. "Hopefully we catch a break in between."

The Goring Fire is among several in the remote area, including a blaze ignited with a spark from a horseshoe, Barton said. Though no homes were at risk, livelihoods of several families were threatened.

"This is what they've got to have for their cows and sheep," Tremonton Fire Capt. Jeff Oyler said. "It takes two to three years to grow back and get what they need to get out of it again."

Rancher Carl Roberts Jr. said he and his family watched Friday as the blaze approached their ranch near the tiny town of Howell.

"We stayed up there as long as we could in our valley," Roberts said. "The flames weren't 360 degrees around our area, but close enough that we decided to get out."

Fanned by 20 mph winds, the fast-moving blaze was 45 percent contained Saturday night, fire managers said. Full containment is not expected for several days, and flames continued to approach buildings, grain fields, roads and gates.

Temperatures have dipped in the last few days and humidity has risen, playing to firefighters' advantage, Barton said. But triple-digit temperatures are expected to resume in the next few days.

"It's going to make it a really rough week," Barton said.

The tinderbox conditions have him dreaming about chillier weather, he added. "I look forward to snowfall."

Authorities learned of the Goring Fire Friday and believe it began when a lightning storm passed over the hills, said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Not long before the blaze forced the closure of I-84 overnight, a tour bus broke down on the freeway. Firefighters took a break from their usual task and helped make sure the visitors and their luggage were safe.

The road was reopened early Saturday, but authorities urged drivers to be cautious because heavy smoke has made it difficult to see very far. Nearby roads to White’s Valley, Pocatello Valley and Johnson Canyon were closed.

Crews preemptively burned along a dozer line to save hundreds of acres of grain fields, Curry added. In addition to local teams, others from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were working to combat the flames.

Other wildfires burning across Utah include:

• The Goose Creek Fire near Box Elder County's Nevada border had consumed 118,000 acres by Saturday, but was 80 percent contained. No homes were threatened.

• The destructive Dollar Ridge Fire in Wasatch County, at 57,000 acres, was all but 3 percent contained Saturday after destroying 90 homes in July.

• The Cove Creek Fire near Sevier County's Shingle Creek, at roughly 2,600 acres, was roughly half contained, and was not threatening houses.