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Utah firefighters on Friday scrambled to control new and growing blazes ahead of what could be a hot and dry weekend.
The National Weather Service on Friday issued a Fire Weather Watch for the southwestern quarter of the state. Citing wind, low humidity and the parched condition of the region's grasslands and forests, forecasters warned that the risk for potentially explosive wildfires was growing.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert noted Utah's tinder-dry conditions in warning residents to "be vigilant in practicing fire safety and good common sense."
"That means using extra caution while camping, target shooting and recreating outdoors. It also means ensuring structures are free of debris, hot vehicles are away from brush and dry grass, and fireworks are used in safe zones in accordance with local restrictions," the governor added.
By Friday evening, the Lackey Fan Fire near Moab had grown to 500 acres, more than doubling in size within hours. Strong winds and a drop in the relative humidity sent the flames into heavy timber in a northeast direction. The fire grew to 800 acres by late Friday night.
Sandy Nelson of the Utah Interagency Fire Center said two hand crews were working on the growing fire and two more from Cedar City and Montana were on their way. By Saturday, as many as 100 firefighters could be tackling the Lackey Fan Fire, which was caused by lightning Thursday night.
The fire was headed in the general direction of the town of La Sal, but fire officials said the blaze was not yet a threat to structures. There were no reports of injuries or property losses Friday.
Meanwhile, the lightning-caused Rock Creek wildfire had gradually grown to 235 acres by Friday evening. The blaze had been burning in rugged high desert terrain about 15 miles east of East Carbon since Thursday afternoon. About 50 firefighters and a water-bearing helicopter fought it Friday.
Earlier in the day, the Dark Canyon blaze had blackened more than 100 acres of brush and pinyon about 25 miles northwest of Blanding in the Abajo Range. About 20 firefighters initially responded, and additional crews were being mobilized to tackle the fire. No containment time was estimated.
Nelson said the Dark Canyon Fire was burning in a remote wilderness area in the Manti-La Sal National Forest where there were few structures, but law enforcement was monitoring the blaze to make sure no hikers were in the area. The U.S. Forest Service's Gooseberry guard station was potentially threatened by the blaze, Nelson said.
Heather McLean, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said smoke jumpers also were being deployed Friday to quickly snuff a couple of small fires under an acre spotted in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in central and southeastern Utah. They were mostly contained by Friday night.
Last summer, a blaze dubbed the Seeley Fire burned about 50,000 acres in that forest, and while it did not destroy homes, it scarred mountainsides and caused flooding and mudslides later in the year.
No containment times were estimated for any of the current blazes. No injuries were reported and no homes lost.
The Dinosaur National Monument along the Utah-Colorado line had five small fires lightning ignited on Thursday. By Friday, three had been snuffed and two others combined covering 150 acres were being allowed to burn to benefit wildlands. All five fires were on the Colorado side of the monument.
However, crews had extinguished a stubborn 25-acre fire on Lake Mountain near Saratoga Springs, managing to safeguard homes until the fire was contained at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. The cause of that fire, too, remained under investigation.
Winds near 70 mph made the task in Saratoga Springs a challenge, and also figured in the fast spread of a brush fire in Provo. That fire began when an electrical wire damaged by 40 mph winds ignited dry grass near 2751 North and 175 East, and before it was doused at 9 p.m. Thursday, it had burned some fence lines.
National Guard deployment canceled •
Colorado authorities on Friday afternoon halted plans to use Utah National Guard helicopters to fight fires there. Utah National Guard Capt. Chris Foote said the Colorado authorities did not elaborate. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert authorized and announced the deployment earlier Friday. • Send us your fire photos