'Red Flag' warning, Pioneer Day fireworks have crews on alert
Fire crews were at the mercy of both nature and humankind as they braced for what could be a hellish Pioneer Day throughout Utah.
The western half of the state, and a section of tinder-dry Utah as well, was under a "Red Flag" warning well into Wednesday night with triple-digit temperatures, almost non-existent humidity and gusty winds the rule.
Add to that Utahns' propensity, despite warnings against unauthorized use of fireworks, to explosively celebrate the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers.
"It's going to be real hot, real dry," said Jason Curry, state fire information officer. "Pioneer Day is a fun holiday, and we know it's fun to do fireworks. But we could be looking at more fires if people aren't careful, or misuse those fireworks."
Curry has been keeping watch on the Tunnel Hollow Fire, a lightning-sparked Morgan County blaze that had spread to 1,400 acres by Wednesday evening. Curry estimated the blaze, in Weber Canyon, was 14 percent contained as night fell.
Curry expected an intensive helicopter and air tanker water- and fire retardant-dumping campaign, combined with efforts of 135 firefighters on the ground, to further hem in the flames.
In Tooele County, the 1,140-acre Anaconda Fire, burning in Pine Canyon, east of Tooele, was70 percent contained Wednesday evening, said Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Osborn. Firefighters had made such progress in Pine Canyon that many would be sent to fight other fires, while others would be sent home, Osborn added.
The nearby 1,850-acre Sheep Fire, near Lookout Pass on the Pony Express Trail and 11 miles south of Terra, was 15 percent contained at mid-day Wednesday. Crews were expecting to make more containment progress following the setting of series of backfires the night before.
Fire Information Officer Teresa Rigby said the nearby 950-acre Lion Peak Fire, in the Simpson Mountains, was 5 percent contained. Authorities have closed the Simpson Springs Campground to aid firefighting operations.
Bureau of Land Management crews contained the new Sunnyside Fire, in a remote area east of Price in Carbon County at 450 acres, and two crews had been released for new fires Wednesday evening. Fire engines will continue to mop up the brush fire Thursday.
In central Utah, crews were working to contain the Plateau Fire, which was sparked Tuesday. As of Wednesday, the fire had burned through about 40-50 acres, and was zero percent contained. The cause of the fire, which is burning about five miles east of Salina, was under investigation.
Around noon Wednesday, Utah County firefighters also rushed to the scene of a brush fire above Alpine, not far from 2012's 2,000-acre Quail Fire. The fire reportedly burned about five acres before it was extinguished at about 1:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the 50-acre Indian Fire, which had been burning in Weber County east of Ogden since Saturday, had been completely contained by 3:35 p.m. Wednesday, according the Forest Service. Residents who had evacuated 20 homes in the area of the fire were allowed to return, and the fire, which is believed to be human-caused, remained under investigation.
Harry Stevens contributed to this story.