Firefighter's conundrum: Storms bring rain and lightning
Firefighters on Friday were trying to get the upper hand on several new blazes and hoped a series of thunderstorms would bring more flame-snuffing rainfall than they do fire-sparking lightning strikes.
The largest of the new, lightning-caused blazes was burning out of control in central Utah's Beaver County. There, the Baboon Fire had topped 19,000 acres Friday afternoon after having been spotted early Thursday afternoon in cheat grass, brush, pinyon and juniper on Bureau of Land Management parcels four miles south of Minersville.
"The fire was active throughout the night. Highway 130 has been reopened but it may be closed periodically as needed for firefighting purposes," said fire information officer Don Carpenter. "We did get some rain on the west side of the fire, so that helped a little."
About 200 firefighters were on the lines early Friday, but more crews were expected to arrive going into the weekend. Efforts to turn back the flames were relying heavily on fire retardant drops from air tankers and water-bearing helicopters. No injuries had been reported and no structures had been lost, though the Circle Four pig farm area was briefly evacuated before the danger diminished, Carpenter said.
Meanwhile, the Flood Canyon Fire, which had blackened 370 acres on the west slope of the Oquirrh Mountains in Tooele County, continued to burn out of control Friday morning. Smoke from that fire in high-desert brush and grasslands filled the adjacent Salt Lake Valley to the east with a cap of thick, gray smoke as morning dawned. The fire was 30 percent contained by nightfall.
BLM spokeswoman Cami Lee said the Flood Canyon Fire, largely being fought with fire-retardant and water drops from aircraft on Friday, was caused by lightning Tuesday afternoon. No injuries or property damage had been reported.
In northwestern Utah's Box Elder County, the Meadow Fire, burning 20 miles north of Grouse Creek, had torched nearly 600 acres of grass and brush. As of Friday morning, no structures had been lost, no evacuations ordered and no injuries reported there, either. The Meadow Fire, too, was ignited by lightning on Tuesday and was fully contained Friday evening after ripping through 575 acres.
Further to the south and east, the Rhyolite Fire, ignited Wednesday afternoon by another lightning strike, had consumed nearly 4,573 acres on the east side of the Pilot Mountains. Fire managers were concerned the blaze could spread east across the Nevada border and into acreage containing ranch buildings. However, as of Friday, no structures had been lost and the blaze was declared 60 percent contained with full containment projected for sometime Saturday.
The National Weather Service predicts increasing thunderstorm activity throughout Utah into the weekend with significant localized rainfall.
According to the Interagency Fire Center, Utah had 486 reportable wildfires as of Friday. Of those, 426 were deemed "human caused," while 60 were blamed on lightning strikes. Total acreage burned so far this fire season was nearly 360,000 acres.
Other active Utah fires
• The state's largest wildfire so far this year, the 108,132-acre Clay Springs blaze, was reported to have been fully contained late Friday.
• In central Utah's Manti-La Sal National Forest area, the 47,588-acre Seeley Fire was 97 percent contained Friday, with full containment projected for Sunday. It, too, was sparked by lightning and has been burning since June 26 about 15 miles northwest of Huntington in Emery County. All evacuations had been lifted.
• The lightning-caused, nearly 17,000-acre Wolf Den Fire was expected to be fully contained on Aug. 1.
• The Dizzy Rock Fire, burning just west of the tiny Sanpete County town of Wales in Maple Canyon, was estimated at about 30 acres. That fire began Thursday afternoon, but its cause remained under investigation.
• Just south of the Utah-Arizona border, wildfires had topped 20,000 acres. The Hobble Complex Fire, about 35 miles south of St. George in the Arizona Strip, had topped 18,000 acres; the Plateau Fire, 30 miles further south in Arizona, had scorched more than 4,500 acres.