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Crews hope rain outweighs lightning in Utah wildfire battles

Published August 11, 2012 4:41 pm

Blazes • Crews gain on Pinyon Fire, fully contain the DI Ranch Fire near St. George.
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Crews on Saturday worked doggedly to complete containment lines around several lightning sparked wildfires, including two that had threatened homes in both southwestern and northern Utah, respectively.

The Little Pine Fire started Friday morning by lightning and has already blazed through 2,100 acres five miles southwest of Enterprise and is threatening 12 structures. A Type III larger crew has been brought in to help corral the blaze, which is at zero percent containment. The Honeycomb Rocks Campground and Enterprise Reservoir area are closed to public access temporarily and voluntary evacuations were in effect as of Saturday early afternoon.

The stubborn Pinyon Fire, which earlier in the week had forced evacuation of dozens of homes in Eagle Mountain and come uncomfortably close to residences in Herriman before being turned back, began Saturday at 60 percent contained. It had burned 5,771 acres of grass, sage, pinyon and juniper since igniting last Sunday evening.

Fire Information Officer Kim Osborn said about 170 firefighters were mopping up remaining hot spots and completing lines around what she described as a "smoldering, creeping and torching" blaze.

Of prime importance was keeping the fire from flaring again and moving toward a remote artillery training impact area on the Utah National Guard's Camp Williams. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of unexploded munitions are believed buried on the site, which has been in use for about a century.

Osborn said full containment of the Pinyon Fire was expected by Monday morning, barring any new flareups. Crews thought they had the upper hand on Wednesday before gusty winds spread embers across fire lines and more than doubled the size of the blaze.

No homes have been lost and no injuries have been reported.

Meanwhile, crews fighting the DI Ranch Fire, begun by lightning Thursday night, suffered a setback late Friday when gusty winds suddenly shifted direction. What had been considered 75 percent containment was revised downward to 50 percent, Fire Information Officer Nick Howell said Saturday.

"Last night our crews were conducting 'burn outs' in a wash area on the east side of the fire when the winds shifted and the fire blew up on us," Howell said. "They got on it, but it spread about 50 more acres, so now we're probably looking at around 950 acres total."

The DI Ranch Fire, burning in cheat grass and brush, had early on threatened a residence and nine other structures, ranging from sheds and stables to other outbuildings, but crews succeeded in turning the blaze back on itself. No evacuations had been ordered as of Saturday as 65 firefighters worked to meet expectations they would finally close containment lines by Monday.

The Faust Fire, holding at 22,313 acres nine miles northwest of the Tooele County town of Vernon, was expected to be fully contained sometime Sunday, according to Fire Information Officer Cami Lee. That fire, burning in sage, brush, grass and juniper, was also sparked by lightning, on Aug. 5. A temporary closure of all Bureau of Land management-administered public land and roadways in the vicinity of the blaze remained in effect.

The West Twin Peak Fire was ignited by lightning Friday at about 5 p.m. somewhere between Milford and the west desert in central Utah. The fire has burned 1,500 acres and was also zero percent contained.

The Pyramid 2 fire has burned 60 acres in Washington County, northwest of Enterprise. About 20 firefighters expected to have it 100 percent contained by Saturday night.

Throughout the state, firefighters watched the skies for the forecasted arrival of periodic thunderstorms and rain showers throughout the weekend and into Monday, hoping the precipitation would out-weigh any new lightning strikes in lessening their burdens.

The Atchinson Fire, near Central in Washington County started by lighting earlier in the week, but was 100 percent contained thanks to heavy rain showers Friday that helped keep the fire at only 51 acres.

remims@sltrib.com