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Brian Head • Driven by strong winds Tuesday night, the Brian Head Fire made a run to the northeast, growing to 5,000 acres by Wednesday. But the fire was moving away from the town which remained under evacuation Wednesday and had burned around, not through, the Thunder Ridge Boy Scout Camp, fire officials said. The Dry Lakes area, which is northwest of Brian Head and consists of mainly cabins, was evacuated Wednesday night, confirmed Forest Service spokeswoman Cigi Burton.
The Clear Creek, Beaver Dam and Horse Valley areas all northeast of Brian Head were evacuated Wednesday night, said Shayne Ward, spokesman for Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
Southwest-heading winds are forecast to push the fire north and northeast Thursday morning, according to Wednesday night's news release from the Great Basin Incident Management Team. The wind is expected to shift to the northwest, and the temperature is expected to decrease, the release stated. All residents that are up the canyon from the Parowan Cemetery have been evacuated, the release stated, and the Red Cross is providing housing.
The scout camp sustained minimal damage thanks to firefighters working throughout the night, Ward said.
Meanwhile, business owners in the 9,600-foot-high resort town were wondering how much longer they would have to cancel tour and room reservations.
About 976 acres had been burned by Tuesday morning, growing to 1,800 acres by Tuesday night, before the overnight winds picked up.
As of Wednesday morning, the fire had burned an estimated 2,761 acres. It was 15 percent contained that night.
"The silver lining in all this is it looks scary and it looks like it's burning a lot, but Brian Head is looking really good," Ward said Wednesday. "It's burning to the north, which is typically away from structures."
During the Tuesday night run, the flames reached Hendrickson Lake and moved down Second Left Hand Canyon, according to a news release from the Great Basin Incident Management Team.
Winds had been expected to be even stronger Wednesday, according to Ward. A red flag warning an indicator to firefighters of the potential for large fire growth had been issued by the Great Basin Incident Management Team, due to high temperatures, low humidity, atmospheric instability and wind.
Aerial firefighting equipment was used Wednesday to attempt to slow the fire's progression, the news release said, adding that crews would be assessing the best locations to contain the fire, and that more firefighting personnel arrived Wednesday, bringing the total firefighters to 500, up from 462 people who were fighting the fire Wednesday morning.
Nine helicopters and 27 fire engines were at the site Wednesday evening.
When the human-caused fire broke out Saturday, it forced the evacuation of about 750 residents and visitors at Brian Head, a resort town located about 12 miles south of Parowan in Iron County. The town includes about 1,200 homes and condos, along with a handful of hotels and stores around the ski resort, and it has about 100 full-time residents.
Only one home was destroyed Saturday, and three were damaged, officials have said.
There was no word Wednesday as to when the evacuation order would be lifted.
Robby Hartlmaier lives in Parowan and owns George's Ski Shop in Brian Head. In the summers, he and Jeff Mascherino, the owner of Brian Head Shuttle, transport bikers to various trails in the areas.
"We've had to cancel lots of groups of bikers," Hartlmaier said.
The groups he has canceled such as groups of Boy Scouts and families aren't rescheduling, because they've planned it for weeks, he said.
"They just don't come back. They'll redo it next year," Hartlmaier said. "So that's hard; people take all of their vacation time to plan it."
Once the evacuation order is lifted, Hartlmaier and Mascherino will check whether bike trails were damaged.
Jill Kraft, who manages property in Brian Head, has eight people staying in her house because of the evacuation. Her guests had driven three days to stay in Brian Head. Her challenge now as well as other lodge- and tour-business owners is to figure out how far in advance to cancel groups, not knowing when the evacuation will end.
"That's the million-dollar question," said Phyllis Semick, who manages properties in Brian Head.
The fire started near the beginning of most of the community's summer season. Brian Head Resort, for example, officially would have opened June 23. But once the order is lifted, the resort won't need more than a day to start operations again, according to Mark Wilder, Brian Head Resort public relations coordinator.
"It's a sad situation, but we're very lucky, thanks to the hard work of a lot of people," Wilder said. "But we're good to go, as soon as we get the word."
Some Brian Head residents are hopping from house to house in Parowan, Kraft said.
Fire officials will escort residents and visitors for emergencies, Ward said. People can get escorts to get medicine from home, but they may not necessarily get an escort for clothes, he said.
"[One of my guests] told me, his family is now a Walmart billboard, because he went down to Walmart and bought all their clothes, because everything is up in Brian Head," Kraft said.
The fire was started by someone using a weed torch, Gov. Gary Herbert, who was visiting the site, tweeted Tuesday. "A good reminder to be #firewise," the governor said.
Officials are investigating the specifics, such as potential criminal violations, cost of the recovery and whether the person who started the fire had a permit, according to Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
State Route 143 remained closed from Parowan to the junction of State Route 148 near Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Dixie National Forest also has issued road and trail closures, which include Marathon Trail No. 3224 from Forest Road No. 048 (Sidney Valley), Sidney Peaks Trail No. 3210, Mace's Run Trail No. 3219, Dark Hollow Trail No. 3232, Hendricks Lake Trail No. 3249, and Forest Road 047 (Brian Head Peak Road).