Utah wildfire tally rises to 9, stretches resources
Terra • After torching a historic lodge and some homes, forcing evacuations and cutting power to Dugway, the Patch Springs Fire at 31,000 acres, the state's largest active wildfire continued its week-long burn on both sides of the Stansbury Mountains Saturday.
The lightning-caused fire, 25 percent contained as of Saturday, has charred mostly national forest land, much of it designated wilderness south of Deseret Peak, according to Bureau of Land Management fire information officer Teresa Rigby.
Forced Friday to evacuate the Tooele County hamlet of Terra west of Johnson Pass, residents were able to return to their homes Saturday. But Willow Springs, about a mile up State Route 199, was not so lucky.
Flames overran the century-old Willow Springs lodge and an enclave of manufactured homes and trailers Friday afternoon, after winds kicked up and drove the fire south and west.
Nearly 200 firefighters were on the Patch Springs Fire Saturday, one of nine actively burning in Utah.
Elsewhere in Utah, evacuation orders remained in place for 110 properties near Wanship, where the Rockport 5 Fire had destroyed eight homes earlier in the week. Sparked by lightning, the fire was 70 percent contained Saturday.
In Davis County, the Farmington Spine Fire burning in the foothills east of Lagoon reached 58 acres Saturday, and was 50 percent contained by 8 p.m. with only a few hotspots burning. No homes in the area were threatened thanks to a road between the structures and the fire, said Kim Osborn, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer. Two heavy air tankers and two single-engine air tankers left other fires for a few hours Saturday to lay down large amounts of flame retardant to box in the southeast border of the fire. Two helicopters remained through the evening to dump water as three 20-person crews fought the flames, Osborn said.
The fire was human-caused and law enforcement have interviewed five people but made no arrests, Osborn said. U.S. Forest Service law enforcement also were looking for photos of the fire before it became dark Friday, and they are asking people to email the photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In northern Utah, the Millville Fire was just 35 percent contained Saturday. The fire was burning in the Blacksmiths Fork Canyon and Left Hand Fork Canyon areas in steep, rugged terrain and had consumed more than 2,800 acres.
In a news release, fire managers said they hoped to use backburning to help build a containment line on the north and south edges of the fire to help prevent it from spreading to the east.
A threat to homes, campgrounds and other structures remains in place because of extreme fire conditions low humidity, high temperatures, strong winds and lots of dry grasses and the orders won't be lifted unless the conditions change, fire information officer Larry Lucas said.
Nearly 200 personnel are assigned to the fire, including six hand crews, five engine and four helicopters. Crews also planned to set a backfire to aid their work building the fire line along the ridge line, if conditions allow, Lucas said.
Also Saturday the:
• State Fire, 8 miles west of Portage, was 70 percent contained and had burned 29,335 acres.
• 222 Fire, near Eureka, had burned 1,609 acres and was 5 percent contained.
• Tank Fire in Spanish Fork Canyon had burned 94 acres and was 50 percent contained.
• Grace Fire, which had burned 245 acres near Escalante, had zero containment.
• Middle Creek Fire near Circleville, which had burned 23 acres, had zero containment.
At the Patch Springs Fire, the Willow Springs lodge was once a watering hole for soldiers at Dugway and was the most distinctive building on the road between the military base and Rush Valley. It was being used as a residence before it burned.
The only thing left of its two structures Saturday was a blue corrugated roof lying mangled on a cinder-block foundation. In the manufactured home community, flames destroyed units parked on the north side, but spared most of those parked on the south side, even though a power line fell on top of them.
Terra Fire Department crews, assisted by other local agencies, saved a residence across the highway by dousing it in foam, but a volunteer firefighter's pickup was burned, according to fire chief Gerry Neil. Also lost with the truck was firefighting gear worth $2,500, which represents half the all-volunteer Terra department's budget, the chief noted.
"The response from our local fire departments was better than I've ever seen. They spent a multitude of hours and equipment helping us," Neil said, noting help from North Tooele, Stockton, Rush Valley, Dugway, Tooele city and Grantsville departments. "These guys are volunteers. They have to go back to their regular jobs and families."
Terra volunteer Tim Whalen, an elementary school custodian, and his brother Benny, bleary eyed after several days of fighting Patch Springs, were taking a break at the Terra fire station Saturday as grateful residents came by with food and batteries.
State Route 199 remained closed Saturday until further notice and a nearby campground had been closed, according to Bucky Whitehouse, Tooele County's emergency manager. On Friday, 30 to 40 residents went to an evacuation center the Red Cross set up at an LDS church in Dugway.
With the help of well-placed retardant drops Friday, the flames were stopped less than a mile from Terra. Bright red swaths on the hillside marked spots where retardant dropped from planes blocked the fire's southward progress into the Onaqui Mountains.
Residents have been returning to Terra but have been warned to be prepared to leave again on a moment's notice, Whitehouse said.
However, the southern and western flanks of the vast burn area were nearing containment, so the town appears safe for now, Rigby said. A big concern Saturday was a new round of lightning moving in that afternoon.
"We are watching lightning and taking protocols to make sure crews are safe," Rigby said.
The fire's north and east sides were actively burning in steep terrain Saturday, filling Tooele Valley with smoke. Helicopters ferried water in 80-gallon buckets from springs and reservoirs in Skull Valley to hotspots on the mountain ridges and along the northern edge of the fire near Iosepa. The fire has entered Vickory, Hickman and Big Hollow canyons on the mountains' east side.
Reporter Jim Dalrymple II contributed to this story from Wanship.