Official says more resources could have controlled Seeley Fire early
Huntington • It could have been stopped, said Brandon Jensen.
Jensen, the fire prevention specialist for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, said when the Seeley Fire ignited Tuesday, a hand crew and a helicopter were fighting it.
But the helicopter was called away to help with the Wood Hollow Fire on the other side of the mountain in Sanpete County. Soon the Seeley Fire, which is suspected to have been caused by lightning, was too much for the hand crew.
With more aircraft, the fire could have been stopped that day, Jensen said. Instead, the Seeley Fire grew to 9,000 acres Wednesday and State Road 31, one of Utah's most-scenic drives, is scarred. Containment is reported at zero.
"With the resources available to us, we can only do so much," Jensen said.
SR 31 runs through the canyon connecting Huntington to Fairview. The road also is called "The Energy Loop" because it features coal mines and oil and gas wells.
Heat was the energy felt there Wednesday. The tall pines and grasses lining the canyon burned and forced communities as far as eight miles away to evacuate.
Residents were ordered out of Scofield, Clear Creek and Hiawatha. Boy Scouts and girls camps were evacuated and the state park around Scofield reservoir was closed.
By noon, about two dozen evacuated property owners gathered at the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and State Road 96 hoping a state trooper would let them go to their cabins or homes. But the evacuations remained in place as of Wednesday night. The Red Cross announced that the LDS Stake Center in Wellington had been designated as an evacuation center.
Doris Trease, 74, who has lived in her Scofield cabin for 37 years, said a deputy knocked on her door at 10 a.m. and told her she had to leave. She packed a few clothes and her oxygen tank, but remained a bit confused about why she had to go.
Trease could not see flames and smoke was only in the distance.
Nevertheless, she conceded she was afraid fire could come over the mountain. It's the first time she's been ordered to evacuate.
"I'm worried," she said. "I'm shaking."
Also waiting on the road was Gary Smith, 64, who has a cabin east of Clear Creek. He said he and his family took a load of stuff to his home in Pleasant Grove on Tuesday night, and they were returning Monday morning when they encountered the roadblock.
"Got a lot invested up there," Smith said. "You hate to see it go."
He said he has had the cabin for 20 years, and it is a place where his children and grandchildren come to visit. He said the cabin is in thick pines, much of it damaged by bark beetles.
Only a five-mile stretch of SR 31 between the Crandall Canyon Mine and just past the Stuart Guard Station was burning Wednesday. But Jensen said homes quite a distance from the flames had to be evacuated because of how the Seeley Fire was moving.
As trees here catch fire, winds blow their sparks and embers as far as a half mile away. Jensen said waiting for the fire to get closer to Scofield and the other communities might not leave enough time for an evacuation.
But on Wednesday, the fire burned around only one structure: the Stuart Guard Station. The old Forest Service building is considered historic and holds photographs and antique saws and tools.
Firefighters deployed around the guard station Wednesday clearing trees and establishing protective lines.
"In 24 years of doing this," Jensen said, "this is the most extreme fire behavior [I have] seen."