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Wildfires keeping crews busy across southcentral Utah

Published June 7, 2012 8:36 am

South-central Utah • Wind and dry conditions force several worried residents to evacuate.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Steve Lutz, heard his Teasdale home, an "old wood building," was in harm's way of a wild fire, he dropped everything at his day job as assistant director of the Utah Fire Rescue Academy and headed south.

"When the south winds picked up, the small fire went from 20 acres to currently 2,300 acres and it was heading directly toward our town," Lutz said. "It was incredible fire explosive behavior. I've never seen that bad of fire behavior."

The Lost Lake Fire began Sunday and its cause still under investigation. On Wednesday, it continued to elude control of firefighters in western Wayne County, four miles southwest of Teasdale and northwest of Capitol Reef National Park. The fire changed to a Wilde's type 2 Incident Management Team, the second highest fire level. Trails, roads and sections surrounding the fire area — which included portions of the Donkey Reservoir, Wildcat Trail and Coleman Reservoir districts — were closed to aid access for fire crews and for public safety.

The fire was sending flying embers miles away, starting spot fires. Hot ashes were falling as far away as Torrey, three miles away from the fire, Lutz said.

"It was like a giant waterfall of smoke coming down the mountain into our town yesterday," he said. "It was hellish ... the smoke came in through every crack in your home."

Eight homes, including one about a quarter of a mile away from the fire, remained in forced evacuation Wednesday night.

Others, like Carol Gnade and her partner Lorraine Miller, opted for a voluntary evacuation Tuesday to get away from the thick smoke. Gnade, who has asthma, said she took the sheriff's office advice that people with breathing problems may want to get away.

"I would not say we are directly in harm's way, unless of course if the wind changes direction," Gnade said. "Things can change very quickly."

Northwest winds Wednesday pushed the fire away from Teasdale.

"The big fear is what happens Friday," Lutz said, adding that a cold front is expected with south winds similar to Tuesday's weather. In the meantime, crews worked to mitigate any potential danger to properties in the area.

From Utah's southwestern border with Nevada and running east across the state's tinder-dry high deserts, rangelands and forests, firefighters were busy trying to rein in several blazes.

The largest of them, the White Rock Fire in the Hamlin Valley area, about 25 miles northeast of Caliente, Nev., had scorched 6,925 acres as of Wednesday afternoon. Sparked by lightning last Friday, the firewas 40 percent contained.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the Sunday crash of an air tanker that was helping fight the fire; two Idaho pilots were killed in the crash.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service confirmed Wednesday that in the wake of that fatal crash, it was reshuffling its air tanker fleet and had added four air tankers to the nine it had left following the accident. Two of the additional aircraft are being made available by the state of Alaska, the other two are from California.

Incident Commander John Kidd said an army of nearly 350 firefighters hoped to have the White Rock blaze fully contained by sometime Sunday.

"Although we saw some growth in the northeast portion of the fire, suppression resources were strategically placed and we were able to get a line around the most of the perimeter last night," Kidd said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, crews Tuesday night recommended that residents of about 20 summer cabins in the Monroe Meadows areas evacuate as the Box Creek Fire, burning in mixed conifer and aspen trees nine miles northeast of Marysvale, was lashed by winds to more than 700 acres.

"It was a precautionary evacuation," said Fishlake National Forest spokesman John Zapell. "At the time, the fire was still some ways away from the homes, but the wind had shifted toward the area. Later, the winds shifted again away from the cabins, none of which were burned. We plan to keep the evacuation [advisory] in place for a couple more days to be safe."

The Box Creek Fire began Monday when embers from a previously "prescribed" fire — also known as a controlled burn that was intended to reduce wildfire danger while revitalizing forest growth — were fanned by gusts and reignited.

The Lake Creek Fire in Garfield County about 10 miles northwest of Boulder and 15 miles north of Escalante had burned some 1,100 acres by Tuesday night. High winds prevented helicopters and air tankers from being used in the area.

In east-central Utah's Wild Horse Canyon, Bureau of Indian Affairs fire monitors were watching but not actively fighting a blaze of more than 25 acres that was ignited by lightning on Sunday. That fire was burning in rugged, difficult-to-access terrain.

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