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Heavy rains helping crews get upper hand on Utah wildfires

Published July 14, 2012 11:10 pm

More on the way • Fire managers watch arriving storm clouds with relief.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Teresa Rigby looked at building storm clouds Saturday and smiled. After weeks of near-record heat, dry lightning strikes and a rash of wildfires, heavy rains were helping thinly stretched crews snuff flames throughout Utah.

"Everybody's been praying for rain, and here it came," said Rigby, a fire information officer with the Bureau of Land Management. "It's definitely helped us, along with the higher humidity along the fire lines — and we're expecting more rain tonight and tomorrow."

Four lightning-sparked wildfires in rural northwestern Utah's Box Elder County had been knocked back by Saturday; the Meadow fire was 100 percent contained as of Saturday morning after scorching 600 acres of sage and grasslands 20 miles north of Grouse Creek, while two others — the 4,358-acre Rhyolite Fire, on the east side of the Pilot Mountains, and the Red Butte Fire, having burned 1,167 acres within two miles of Grouse Creek — were projected for full containment sometime on Sunday.

Crews also were optimistic about soon containing the North Lucky 7 Fire, which had burned 574 acres five miles west of Etna. It was 35 percent contained Saturday.

"The tide has turned, for sure," Rigby said. "Things today are turning out to be pretty quiet for a change."

Overnight rains also had crews breathing sighs of relief in Tooele County, where the lightning-ignited Flood Canyon Fire was expected to be contained Sunday after burning about 720 acres on the western slopes of the Oquirrh Mountains.

Rigby said hand crews, assisted by bulldozers, fire engines and water- and fire retardant-bearing helicopters, were working to snuff hot spots on all four of those northern Utah blazes Saturday.

No homes or other structures were threatened, and no evacuations were in place, she said.

Even the stubborn Baboon Fire, which had blackened nearly 20,000 acres four miles south of the Beaver County town of Minersville since being started by lightning on Thursday, was giving way to the rain. Interagency Fire Center spokesman Don Carpenter said crews had reached 90 percent containment as of Saturday and were "making outstanding progress," though he did not provide an estimate for when the blaze would be completely hemmed in by some 220 firefighters, aided by water-bearing helicopters.

Other active Utah fires •

• A series of now-combined wildfires continued to burn on tens of thousands of acres just south of the Utah-Arizona border. The Hobble Complex Fire, about 35 miles south of St. George in the Arizona Strip, had topped 35,000 acres; the Plateau Fire, 30 miles farther south in Arizona, had burned more than 4,500 acres.

• The Seeley Fire, which had scorched 48,038 acres in central Utah's Manti-La Sal National Forest area, was 98 percent contained with full containment expected by Monday morning. Lightning started the fire on June 26, about 15 miles northwest of Huntington in Emery County.

• The 16,865-acre Wolf Den Fire, also sparked by lightning, was expected to be fully contained on Aug. 1.

• The Dizzy Rock Fire, burning west of the Sanpete County town of Wales in Maple Canyon, was estimated at 30 acres. That fire began Thursday afternoon, but its cause remained under investigation.

• The Lake Canyon Fire had topped 30 acres but was staying away from homes as it continued to smolder in heavy timber about 20 miles southwest of Duchesne in eastern Utah.

remims@sltrib.com