Saddle Fire at 1,234 acres needs days of rain

In this file photo, the Saddle Fire burns on the Pine Valley Mountain of Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 23, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Kaelyn Smith (extended at edges); St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Saddle Fire threatening the community of Pine Valley in Washington County continued to grow Sunday reaching 1,234 acres in size and fire managers have said they believe a significant amount of rainfall is needed over several days to fully put out the fire.

“With the fire burning in areas filled with unnecessary risk and hazards to firefighters,” an interagency fire information release said Sunday, “fire managers believe a significant moisture event is needed for multiple days to extinguish the blaze.”

Containment, however, may be reached as early as Friday morning, according to current estimates posted by incident management.

Lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 24, 2016 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News
Lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 24, 2016 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News

The National Weather Service has forecast thunderstorms and widely scattered showers over Southern Utah for Tuesday, which could help. However, in its alert, the service also said there will likely be little rain associated with the storm.

To add to fire concerns, the storm may produce gusty outflow winds and lightning, the combination of which could well fuel existing fires and contribute to new fire starts in the region.


Read more: Fire weather risks increase with incoming storms; lightning safety


Fire behavior Sunday was moderate as of incident command’s 8 a.m. update. The fire had limited movement in the conifer stands and along the transition zones with the brush, it said, and interior islands burning cleaned up some pockets of fuel.

Lloyd and Forsythe canyons in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness have seen the most vigorous fire activity, the Sunday news release said.

Aerial resources including air tankers and helicopters dropped 22,000 gallons of retardant on the fire Saturday, focusing attention on the southern ridges in an attempt to create an impenetrable barrier to the flames. This is similar to last week, the news release said, when retardant was dropped on the southwest portion of the mountain.

The Saddle Fire is expected to continue to grow towards the east, northeast and southeast in Lloyd Canyon. Less growth is expected toward the northwest and west. Additionally, little fire spread is expected into areas with live, green oak and mahogany.

Lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, St. George News
Lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, St. George News

Firefighters hoped the aerial effort would stop the spread of the flames,  and keep the blaze from moving onto the south face of the 9,000-foot peak of Saddle Mountain and into the Pine Valley community.

Helicopters also dropped water directly onto the fire to slow its advance and allow firefighters an extra advantage in containing the fire to as small an area as possible.

Much of the fire is in steep, rugged terrain, making it difficult and dangerous for fire personnel to combat its growth. There are currently 625 people working on the fire including firefighters and support staff.

During the day, firefighting crews are improving fuel breaks and scouting the terrain.

During the night, crews that include engines and Hotshots are patrolling the threatened areas, preparing to pick up spot fires and encroaching flames if needed.

Evacuations and closures

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is still asking residents to voluntarily evacuate the area given the risk and fast moving flames.

Fire personnel have identified approximately 500 at-risk properties in the burn area. The sheriff wants to limit the number of those at risk.

Grass Valley Road from Pinto to Pine Valley, Mahogany Bench Road and the entry road to the Pine Valley community are only open to property owners. Those who are not residents of the at-risk areas have been asked to stay away.

Pine Valley Recreation Area, Dixie National Forest  and Baker Reservoir are all currently closed to the public.

Information meeting, resources for residents

An information meeting is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Central Fire Station located at 155 E. Center St. in Central.

Additionally, a fire information center has been set up at the Pine Valley Fire Station, 680 E. Main Street, Pine Valley.

Residents may sign up for the Washington County Utah Citizen Alert via its web page or by calling 435-634-5700.

Air quality concerns

Overnight inversions have affected air quality in the Pine Valley area during the early morning hours, according to incident management reports.

See Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s website for Washington County for more air quality information. Forecasts are also available by telephoning 801-536-0072 or toll-free 1-800-228-5434.

Background

The lightning-caused fire began June 13 when a thunderstorm passed through the area. This fire is what is called a holdover0lightning fire, meaning the start and the blaze was not spotted for several days.

Interference from unknown drone pilots caused delays in the aerial firefighting efforts. As a result, the fire grew. Dry, hot weather with gusty winds have since contributed to the the fire’s growth.

On Tuesday, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher declared a state of emergency for the area.

A mandatory evacuation of Pine Valley was issued Thursday but was rescinded a short time later – although voluntary evacuations are still being encouraged as this report publishes.

As of Sunday, there have only been two minor heat-related illnesses associated with the fire incident an no other injuries reported.


See more with video: Pine Valley residents on high alert as fire enters canyon, threatens 500 homes – June 24


Resources:

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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3 Comments

  • Bob June 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    we need dumpster to give us another lesson about living around trees. LOL

    • Real Life June 27, 2016 at 9:52 pm

      Lol! Where you at Smokey the Dumpster?

  • SteveSGU June 27, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Where’s the Monday update? And please show an updated photo. Although the fire above the church is sensational, it doesn’t reflect today’s news, right?

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