Brian Head Resort • A specialist wildfire management team and hundreds more firefighters arrived at the Brian Head Fire on Monday, prompting optimism even as temperatures heated up and light winds pushed the blaze in the general direction of the town.
Officials said they were hopeful the flames would remain controlled after a relentless assault of retardant and water was dropped by helicopters and air tankers since the man-made fire began early Saturday afternoon and grew quickly through dense timber.
It destroyed one cabin and damaged at least three more.
"Our firefighters have been able to put it in check," Cigi Burton, a spokeswoman with Dixie National Forest, said Monday afternoon. "Things could change, but for right now we're feeling good."
Meanwhile, Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday planned to visit sites damaged by the wildfire, and was holding a 1 p.m. news conference at Brian Head to discuss the current state of affairs of wildfires in the state, and urge Utahns to be diligent in wildfire prevention as they recreate throughout the summer months, according to a news release.
Also Tuesday, fire officials and community leaders planned to meet with residents at 7 p.m. at the Parowan High School auditorium to provide an overview of fire suppression activities and answer questions.
About 976 acres had been burned by Tuesday morning, fire officials said.
The fire was 4 percent contained by nightfall — several edges appeared to be fully snuffed out on the drive up State Route 143 to the town on Monday morning. Temperatures were expected to rise into the mid-70s for much of the week, toasty for the ski resort town, which sits at an elevation of 9,600 feet.
A news release Monday night said 420 firefighters were on the scene, many digging fire lines under the direction of a regional incident management team, Burton said. About six aircraft, including air tankers and helicopters, continued to douse flare-ups, along with 23 engines and 11 crews. The fire was most active on the northern edge, farthest from town limits, Brian Head town manager Bret Howser said Monday afternoon.
Howser was awake and working — communicating with media and concerned residents — for 29 of the first 32 hours that the fire was active. Finally, on Sunday night, he allowed himself to get five hours of sleep.
"We feel pretty confident about it," he said. "There's a good, strong perimeter created around this fire, and crews are on top of it."
A so-called "very large" air tanker — the size of a large passenger plane — had departed the scene by Monday, Burton said.
The big tanker and other air resources were the primary reason only one home was destroyed and three were damaged Saturday, Burton said. But she warned more homes may have been damaged as firefighters haven't yet had an opportunity to inspect some neighborhoods.
The resort town includes about 1,200 homes and condos, along with a handful of hotels and stores around the ski resort. It has about 100 full-time residents. Many were able to stay with nearby family, officials said, and those staying in cabins headed back to their homes. Brian Head is a popular vacation destination for Las Vegas-area residents.
"Had we not had aerial resources available, we could've potentially lost a lot more structures," Burton said. "They are able to put retardant in areas we aren't able to get to [otherwise]."
Burton said officials had yet to determine when about 750 residents and visitors who evacuated Saturday would be allowed back to their homes and cabins. Howser said it most likely would not be any earlier than Wednesday.
Cary Hutchison's cabin is perched a half-mile or so up the hill from where the fire started, and it was among the worst damaged in the blaze. The Las Vegas resident said her son and a few friends were there Saturday for a weekend getaway when they heard a plane buzz over the cabin. Moments later, ash began to fall.