This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Just before the Brian Head Fire started June 17, a Brian Head business owner called 911 to report that a cabin owner was burning off shrubs and had started a "massive" fire in Parowan Canyon.
"I am now driving my shuttle van ... right below the S-curve," the caller says. "There is a cabin, and the cabin owner has a fire going. He's burning off shrub around his cabin. The fire is massive.
"I think a Brian Head officer needs to go to the cabin immediately and talk to this landowner before he burns down Brian Head."
A second 911 call is a plea for help.
"Hi, I have a fire getting out of control," says a caller from the scene, panting and out of breath. "... We're trying to fight this, but it's getting out of control. ... We need help!"
Asked by a dispatcher about the size of the blaze, the apparent cabin owner replies: "It's a forest! It's big. It's like 50 feet by 50 feet. It's big we need help!"
The 911 calls were released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Safety, with the name of the second caller redacted. Gov. Gary Herbert said last week that the fire was started by someone using a weed torch.
Meanwhile, Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said he received an investigative file from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands on Wednesday afternoon, and that his office will begin the process of screening potential criminal charges in connection with the blaze. Garrett added that it could take weeks to conclude the process.
On Wednesday, the fire had burned more than 54,000 acres across two counties and had destroyed 21 buildings, 13 of them residences.
Throughout Wednesday, more than 1,700 firefighters, aided by a fleet of water- and retardant-bearing helicopters and air tankers, shifted attention to the still out-of-control blaze's northern front. While wind gusts hit 30 mph, fire activity was not as extreme as in previous days, officials said.
Andrew Jackson, a fire information officer, said that as of Wednesday morning, the blaze had blackened 54,202 acres up more than 3,000 acres from Tuesday night's estimate. A more accurate acreage estimate was not available Wednesday evening.
The blaze was deemed 15 percent contained, and crews still had July 15 as their target for completely hemming in the fire.
"A lot of that growth was expected, due to the nature of the fuels [along the northern flank]," Jackson said. "And we had a little growth on the southern end, too, but that was mostly from intentional 'burnouts' we did to keep the fire from spreading uncontrolled."
Even as shovel- and chainsaw-wielding crews and bulldozers moved into the rugged, remote, smoke-enshrouded hills near Iron County's Red Creek Reservoir, about 8 miles east of Paragonah, other crews continued the painstaking work of strengthening and extending firebreaks and lines on the eastern and southern edges of the blaze. Officials anticipated a northeasterly wind pushing flames by Friday.
Rough terrain including fields of prehistoric lava featuring dangerous rocky snags was slowing firefighter progress in several areas.
Yet fire managers said the blaze did not advance any closer Wednesday to Mammoth Creek or Panguitch Lake, an area filled with cabins.
And there was welcome news late Wednesday evening as Brian Head and the nearby community of Dry Lakes were expected to reopen to residents and visitors at 7 a.m. Friday. About 750 had evacuated when the fire broke out.
Brian Head Town Manager Bret Howser said only State Route 143 entering town from the south will be open not the more popular route that connects the town directly to Parowan and Interstate 15, where crews continued to cut down burned and dead trees that threatened to fall on the roadway. Rocky Mountain Power crews have restored power to the town, and internet and phone services were expected to be operational by Friday, Howser said.
Other communities including Upper Bear Valley, Panguitch Lake, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Castle Valley, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows, Mammoth Creek and Second Left Hand Canyon remain under evacuation orders.
But Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins said officials hoped to remove a roadblock on SR-143 near the city of Panguitch in the next day or two. That will allow residents to drive themselves into Panguitch Lake, where they can be escorted a shorter distance to their cabins to retrieve valuables, Perkins said.
The Red Cross continued to offer shelter and other aid to evacuees from stations set up in Parowan and Panguitch.
Kim Mayne, a Brian Head resident who moved to the town with her husband, George, and two young grandchildren last summer, has been staying with her family in apartment-style dormitories at Southern Utah University since Friday. She said the Red Cross helped arrange the living situation after the family had been in a motel for nearly a week.
With such a disruption to their normal lives, Mayne said residents' "feelings are a mix of everything a mix of worry and stress and gratitude at the same time."
"There's a huge uncertainty of when you can go home if your home's still standing," Mayne said. Residents have heard rumors that, depending on fire conditions, they may be able to return home as soon as Thursday, she said.
While Mayne says she feels no anger toward the person responsible for the fire and other groups, including environmentalists, she knows other people who are "very, very angry."
There are "so many things" that could have been done to prevent the fire, Mayne said, but "we're going to get a lot further if we're not playing the blame game. ... Now is a time for action instead of anger."
Wednesday marked the third straight day that most of the state was under a wildfire danger warning due to continued dry, windy and hot conditions. Temperatures ranged from the low 90s in northern and central Utah to triple digits along the southern border.
However, firefighters hoped to benefit from a cooling trend Thursday and Friday. Along Brian Head's fire lines, temperatures will retreat from near 90 into the upper 70s and low 80s.
Also, gusts that have topped 40 mph in the area this week will ease to light breezes as the week winds down.
Reporter Luke Ramseth contributed to this story.