Toquerville Falls Fire challenging; lightning ignition explained

TOQUERVILLE – 150 acres are currently burning in a fire that is likely to increase in size north of the Black Ridge range in the Toquerville region.  Bill Roach, Bureau of Land Management’s Dispatch Manager, said this fire has been named the Toquerville Falls Fire and is on the other side of the canyon from yesterday’s Leap Fire (the Leap Fire, incidentally, is now contained and controlled but the Color Country Interagency Fire Response team continues monitoring it).

The Toquerville Falls Fire is particularly challenging due to what Roach called “really really limited access.”

“We are sending helicopters to shuttle the crews to the fire, and we’re using aircraft to try to slow it down until we can get boots on the ground.”

Roach said that there are already engaged three single engineer tankers, three helicopters and one air attack committed to the fire.  “We’re going to try to shuttle a fuels crew and couple of engine crews in with the helicopters.”

This fire is believed to be lightning caused. Although lightning may not have been evident during the day today, or yesterday for that matter, Roach said that “in very heavy fuel types, a lightning fire can smolder for 72 hours or longer; so, if you look a the lightning over the past three or four days, this is nature’s way of blowing on the fire.”

Unlike other ignition sources, “lightning is very hot,” said Roach.  “We have positive and negative strikes; negative hits the ground for a fraction of a second, positive hits and stays longer. Positive strikes have a higher probability of starting a fire.”

On an interesting side note, Roach further explained “perimeter lightning,” which is that which shoots out of the sides of a cumulus cloud.  “Dry lightning,” he explained, is lightning that comes without any rainfall.

The forecast for this evening includes a cold front, 40 mile per hour winds and, after  passage of a funnel system, cooler temperatures which usually bring humidity.  It is anybody’s guess when containment might be achieved on the Toquerville Falls Fire, given these conditions and the limited accessibility.  Roach said, “at the moment, we’re just trying to get boots on the ground.”

Presently no communities, structures are threatened; there are no road closures at this time.  Roach said this fire “will have to get really really big for those threats or closures” to emerge.

At 7:40 p.m. Roach advised that David Eaker, of the National Park Service for Zion National Park, may close some hiking trails in Zion due to the heavy smoke emanating from this fire.

jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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