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Bear River Fire grows, causing highway to close

Three Utah fires have burned over 6,000 total acres.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Bear Fire burns in the mountains northwest of Helper on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

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The Carbon County Bear Fire has grown to 5,300 acres and shut down a highway while the East Canyon Fire, which grew to 835 acres, is now 45% contained, according to Utah Fire Info.

The Bear Fire “moderated” overnight but remains active, and Wednesday’s conditions of low relative humidity, strong southwest winds and temperatures in the upper 80s created the potential for rapid fire growth and increased activity. Officials think the blaze, which is at 0% containment, was caused by lightning. The fire reached U.S. Route 6 on Wednesday evening, according to Utah Fire Info, causing the highway to be closed in both directions.

Officials said Tuesday that the East Canyon Fire started when a piece of heavy machinery, a track hoe, hit a rock. East Canyon Park remains open, and evacuations in the area were lifted this afternoon and State Route 66 reopened.

“[The Bear Fire is] burning like what we would expect in our peak season, which would be mid-July,” Incident Commander Jason Porter said in a press release. “This kind of fire behavior is about a month early for us. It’s burning through north slopes that should still be wet right now.”

Due to steep and rugged terrain, firefighters haven’t been able to build a containment line around the Bear Fire. Air tankers are attempting to slow the fire’s spread although none are specifically assigned to the blaze due to the amount of active fires. Fire crews worked on foot to protect structures near the fire, with an air attack plane and a helicopter providing support.

Meanwhile, the Pack Creek Fire in Juab County had grown to 120 acres Wednesday night. The fire was threatening multiple structures at 10 p.m., according to Utah Fire Info. Ground crews had to disengage because of extreme fire behavior.

As firefighters battle multiple active wildfires in the state, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is temporarily banning campfires and recreational firearm target shooting across 146 wildlife management areas (WMAs) in the state. The division stated in a press release that firearm target shooting would only be permitted in in the established shooting range areas at the Big Hollow, Fillmore and Hobble Creek wildlife management areas. The restriction does not apply to legal possession of a firearm and hunting.

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Campfires of any kind, including portable fire pits, are also not allowed on any of the areas during the temporary ban, according to a press release. Fireworks and explosives are never allowed on any of the wildlife management areas in Utah.

“With the extreme dry conditions, any spark can start a fire,” DWR Habitat Section Chief Eric Edgley said in the release. “With firearm target shooting, sparks from metal targets aren’t the only threat — a bullet or other projectile glancing off a rock is all it takes to cause a spark and a fire. Last year, two large wildfires on WMAs burned several hundred acres of wildlife habitat and were started by target shooting with firearms. Obviously, campfires and fireworks also create sparks that can cause wildfires.”

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food is urging Utahns to avoid burning unnecessary fires as the weather conditions continue to increase wildfire risk. The department issued guidelines to avoid burns on high-wind days, inform the local fire department if a burn is necessary, and have a charged hose with sufficient water on hand in case of flare ups.

“Utah is experiencing extreme drought across the state,” said Jamie Barnes, Director of the Forestry, Fire, and State Lands Division in the Department of Natural Resources, in a press release. “Temperatures are warm and the highs have increased over these last few days. We will start to see an increase in dry fuels and individuals should take caution in all outdoor activities to prevent the starting of a wildfire. Fire sense is very important at all times, but especially in these conditions.”

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