Front-end loader extinguishes fire at abandoned visitor center

ST GEORGE — After attempting to fight a fire in an abandoned building in triple-digit temperatures with limited access and lack of onsite utilities, fire crews Sunday called in a UDOT front-end loader to demolish the roof of the structure for the sake of firefighter safety.

Large-scale emergency response illustrated by long line of trucks and other emergency vehicles lined up, State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Large-scale emergency response illustrated by long line of trucks and other emergency vehicles lined up, former State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Just after 5 p.m., a call came in to the St. George Communications Center reporting a structure fire at the former State of Utah Visitor Information Center just off the northbound Exit 2 on Interstate 15. The building has been abandoned since its closure in 2008.

As fire crews arrived, they found an active fire in the abandoned structure with limited access roads and no onsite water source, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said.

When Exit 2 was constructed, the access roads to the former visitor center were restricted, making it difficult Sunday evening for fire engines and emergency vehicles to maneuver through fences and rough dirt roads to get to the fire.

“Our access to this fire was very limited,” Stoker said.

Soon after firefighters arrive at reported fire at the State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Soon after firefighters arrive at reported fire at the former State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The main objective at the onset was to keep the fire from spreading to brush. Fire crews took a defensive stance instead of an offensive one since the building was abandoned and no longer in use. Firefighters were not sent inside the building to fight the fire.

Since there was no water supply at the scene itself, crews were forced to use some of their engines to shuttle water from the SunRiver area to the scene, Stoker said.

The design and construction of the building added to the difficulties, as it was built using wood and a heavy timber frame. The tongue-and-groove design of the roof, ceilings and roof decks was also very difficult for fire crews to access and increased the danger and risk of injury as well.

Realizing that extinguishing the blaze from the outside would prove impossible, Stoker contacted Todd Abbott, the UDOT roadway operations manager, to bring in a front-end loader to knock the roof in on itself. This would minimize the risk to firefighters and allow the fire to safely burn itself out.

Front end loader provided by Utah Department of Transportation to assist in breaking down the building and turning the fire in on itself, State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Front-end loader provided by Utah Department of Transportation to assist in breaking down the building and turning the fire in on itself, former State of Utah Visitor Information Center, St. George, Utah, July 31, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“The limited access, the heat of the day, and a nonexistent water supply; all three of these were working against us,” Stoker said, “so we decided to let the fire burn, while monitoring any hot spots that spring up in the area.”

At that point, Stoker released a lot of his crews, making them available to assist with the other fire reports that came in while they fought the abandoned building fire, including a brush fire near I-15 Exit 13 and a larger fire burning near mile marker 33, he said. 

Stoker said the abandoned visitor center has been used as a skate park since its closure. It has been heavily vandalized, he said, and is in a state if disrepair. However, the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, as it was still burning at the time of this report.

“It’s suspicious,” Stoker said, “and most likely human caused, because there really is not any utilities or anything else here.”

Even if the fire hadn’t happened, Stoker said, the plan was for the abandoned building to come down anyway.

“We knew eventually it would have to be demolished.”

The witnesses who called in the fire from the interstate reported to police they did not observe anyone running from the area or anything that looked suspicious.

No injuries were reported, and numerous agencies and departments responded and assisted with the scene, including the St. George Fire Department, St. George Police Department, Gold Cross Ambulance, Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation’s Incident Management Team.

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

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Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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

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11 Comments

  • ladybugavenger August 1, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Are you okay Dot? I feel bad that your house caught on fire. Where are you going to go? ? #fundraiserforDotsnewhouse

    Come on now don’t be mad ?

    • ladybugavenger August 1, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      You know you love me ?

      • .... August 1, 2016 at 10:27 pm

        ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡ yep !

    • ladybugavenger August 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Thanks for the Go Raiders chant! 18 days until ladybugavenger leaves and weird stuff starts happening in St George and maybe the whole state of Utah. Hey! While I’m gone, how about dismantling the child abuse and child molestation cult at the crick while I’m gone….now that would be weird 😉

      • .... August 2, 2016 at 9:12 am

        Gonna Miss ya ladybug ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡ !

        • ladybugavenger August 2, 2016 at 11:00 am

          Awwwwwwwwwwwww #ladybugavengerfinallygotherfundraiserandisbuyingahouseinanotherstate

    • .... August 1, 2016 at 10:40 pm

      If I knew a fire was going to start I would of got some marshmellows and Coke and called ya ! GO RAIDERS. !!!!!

      • ladybugavenger August 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm

        I would have brought the Cheetos!

      • ladybugavenger August 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm

        ….and the reclining couch

  • Real Life August 1, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    #BeCarefulWhereYouLeaveYourMethPipe

  • .... August 1, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Fundraiser@RealLowlifeain’tgotnofriends !

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