Zero-percent contained: Silver King and Deer Springs wildfires continue to rage out of control in southern Utah

High winds and temperatures are fanning flames and fears.

St. George • Scores of firefighters in southern Utah are still struggling to rein in two major fires, braving intense heat, high winds and rugged terrain to bring the blazes under control.

About 350 firefighters on the ground and a small fleet of tankers and helicopters in the air continued their battle to extinguish the Silver King Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 5 and grew from 10,800 acres Monday to 11,290 acres on Tuesday and is zero percent contained.

Read more: How high is wildfire risk in Utah this summer?

Forest Service shuts down public access

The fire’s spread prompted the Fishlake National Forest officials to close a vast area to the public. The closure, which will remain in effect through Aug. 30 unless rescinded, extends from Interstate 70 and Castle Rock Campground south to Tenmile Creek, and from Mount Baldy and the Fish Creek drainage area east to just short of Marysvale.

(Marysvale Fire Department via Facebook) The Silver King Fire near Marysvale, Utah is reportedly at nearly 700 acres as of Saturday morning.

While they have yet to gain the upper hand against the fire, firefighters have made some headway, stopping the Silver King’s spread toward Marysvale and nearby upper Bullion Canyon, where some homeowners were evacuated over the weekend.

One of the evacuees was Marysvale Fire Chief Jon Christensen, who recalled the conversation he had with a 5-year-old granddaughter while they prepared to flee his home in Bullion Canyon as the flames from the fire drew closer.

“The most trying moment through all of this,” Christensen recalled, “is when … she threw her arms around my leg, hugged me and said, ‘Baba, you’re the fire chief. Why can’t you make the fire go away?’ I have never felt more helpless in my entire life.”

Christensen’s family is still staying elsewhere but the fire chief said he returned home Monday night to ensure it was safe from hot ashes and other fire hazards. To date, according to fire officials, there have been no deaths or injuries due to the fire and only one structure, an outbuilding in a remote area, has been lost.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Firefighters on the northwest side of the fire perimeter worked in hot and dry conditions amid wind gusts up to 30 mph for much of Tuesday to construct a fire break to protect historic Silver King Mine, a gold mine that operated through the 1890s. On the south of Bullion Creek, crews toiled to keep the flames in check on the eastern edge of the fire and to ensure equipment was in place to protect structures in historic Miner’s Park.

Overhead, three large Type 1 helicopters, capable of carrying 700 gallons of water of fire retardant, and a smaller Type 3 helicopter, which can carry 180 gallons, attacked the flames from the air. Tuesday’s air assault also involved two amphibious “scooper” aircraft that skim and scoop water into an onboard tank to drop on wildfires and one aerial drone.

More help continues to arrive.

“There’s a bunch [more firefighters] who have arrived and are in the process of checking in,” said Kevin Abel, public information officer for the Great Basin Incident Management Team 2 that is managing the fire.

Another positive development is that Rocky Mountain Power has restored power that was temporarily shut off to much of Bullion Canyon when the fire threatened homes and power lines in the area. Thus far, the power has been switched on for about 60 homes and could be restored to another 15 soon as conditions improve.

“We haven’t received clearance yet from the fire officials for our crews to look at conditions there and see if those customers can be restored,” Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson David Eskelsen said. “We have to wait for that clearance, and then we can make whatever repairs are necessary.”

Despite the progress fire crews are making, the weather continues to be an issue.

“The weather is not cooperating,” Abel said. “It is holding that smoke [from the fire] down and making it difficult to breathe outside.”

Deer Springs Fire Rages On

Further south, the state’s largest wildfire continues to rage out of control on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in rugged country about 21 miles northeast of Kanab in Kane County.

(Bureau of Land Management) The Deer Springs Fire on July 7.

The Deer Springs Fire, which erupted Sunday and is suspected to have been caused by humans, increased from 11,000 acres Monday to nearly 12,000 acres on Tuesday, according to David Hercher, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management’s Paria River District.

Roughly 120 federal, state and local firefighters were successful in their efforts to build a fire break on the north end of the fire Tuesday to keep it from advancing toward the rural community of Deer Springs north of the fire. In addition, crews constructed another fire break on the opposite side of the blaze to slow its spread to the south. Winds out of the north and northwest aided crews in their efforts, Hercher said.

A flotilla of aircraft — 9 tankers, four smaller fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter — assaulted the inferno from the air. Another four helicopters are on order and additional firefighters are expected to join the effort shortly, according to fire officials.

Due to the increased risk of wildfires from high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning that will remain in effect through Wednesday evening.

Aside from logistics, Hercher said, the largest challenge confronting firefighters thus far is the location of the fire, much of which is in wooded areas populated with pinion and juniper trees. In addition, there are few roads in the area, meaning crews are often having to hike up to several miles to reach the fire.

Moreover, the few existing roads are often sandy and not designed for heavy vehicles.

“Some guys were saying that they had to take the air in their tires down to about 30 pounds to drive out there without sinking in the sand,” Hercher said.

The Deer Springs Fire is zero percent contained. Thus far, there have been no evacuations, deaths, injuries or damage to homes or other structures, according to fire officials.