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Wildfire that displaced 750 people in Brian Head destroys one home and threatens 100 more

Published June 17, 2017 10:40 pm

Safety • The fast-moving wildfire now threatens resort ski town structures.
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Some 750 residents and visitors in the ski resort town of Brian Head were evacuated due to a fast-moving wildfire that broke out early Saturday afternoon.

One home was lost and another sustained damage as the flames — some shooting 100 feet in the air — raced through heavy timber on the northeast edge of the remote southern Utah community. The fire was estimated to be larger than 500 acres, officials said, and was zero percent contained.

"Pretty much this whole town is threatened," Dixie National Forest spokesman Bode Mecham said Saturday night.



There were about 100 homes fire officials were especially concerned about, Mecham said. Firefighters were surrounding some of the homes in an effort to protect them — but only in areas where there were sufficient routes for escape in case the blaze shifted suddenly, he said.

Only firefighters and a handful of town officials remained in the area as the blaze crossed over city limits late Saturday afternoon. State Route 143 — the primary route into the town — was closed shortly after the fire was reported, between Brian Head and Parowan, near Interstate 15. Evacuees were sent in the opposite direction, through Cedar Breaks National Monument to State Route 14, Brian Head Town Manager Bret Howser said.

While a few did not want to leave their homes behind, residents and vacationers departed relatively quickly and safely, Howser said.

He said he had watched as flames came within 50 yards of several homes Saturday afternoon.

About 115 personnel from local, state and federal agencies were assigned to the fire Saturday night, with dozens more expected to arrive Sunday. A "type-II" incident management team was also expected to arrive and begin a more coordinated management of the fire, Mecham said.

Due to the active fire activity and large flames, most of the firefighting was occurring from the air through water and retardant drops, Mecham said. Three helicopters and 10 air tankers worked to slow the fire's advance.

The fire was human caused, but specific details of how it started remained under investigation. Officials said cooler temperatures and higher humidity were slowing the fire's rapid spread Saturday night, but they were concerned about the "record-challenging" temperatures expected on Sunday, rising into the mid-70s.

"We could definitely expect to see some more large fire runs tomorrow," Mecham said. "We hope we can get around it, but at this time I can't give you a good answer about what's going to happen."

He added: "We're still just trying to get a foothold where we can."

The blaze continued to show active behavior Saturday night, including crowning, spotting and torching.

While temperatures were warm Saturday, Howser said it was "a blessing" the wind speeds weren't any stronger than about 4 mph most of the day.

Many trees where the blaze began were killed by bark beetles years ago, Howser said, which made for tinder-dry fuels for the fire to move through Saturday. The town's firefighters worked to build fire breaks and conduct fuel mitigation projects in areas outside town in recent years, he said, but the efforts only go so far.

"You do what you can, but it's still a forest," he said.

Howser said there is an very anxious feeling among the town's residents who have departed, and the handful who remained at town hall Saturday.

The goal, he said, was to "make it through the night" and hope the additional firefighters would keep the blaze in check on Sunday.

lramseth@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lramseth

 

 

 

 

 

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