West Valley Fire triples in size as national team arrives to assist

ST. GEORGE — A fire that was at 2,500 acres Thursday morning has spread to more than 7,700 acres as firefighters continue to battle the blaze. A national incident management team arrived Thursday night and is preparing to take command of the massive blaze, which has been fueled by high winds.

Smoke visible Thursday evening from New Harmony, Utah, June 28, 2018 | Photo by and courtesy of Holly Knight, St. George News

The West Valley Fire has burned through more than 7,724 acres, a determination made after a midnight flight conducted Thursday using infrared technology that provided detailed information on the size and scope of the fire. Bode Mecham, West Valley Fire public information officer, told St. George News Friday morning that the fire, fueled by timber, mountain brush and grass, is still zero percent contained.

A section of the fire burning through the Grass Valley area near the Mill Flat Trail is still about 2 miles away from any residences or structures, Mecham said, adding that four fire engines and bulldozers have been placed in the area to rapidly deploy in the event the fire advances in that direction.

Hot Shot crews have also been deployed in New Harmony, he said, and additional teams will be available soon.

The high winds Thursday prevented planes from dropping fire retardant, but the fire’s progression slowed during the night as it moved into a barren strip of land annihilated by the 2010 fire, and Mecham said he is hoping the winds die down Friday.

“These are big aircraft flying at low altitude, which just can’t happen if there are strong winds,” he said. “It’s a long way (to get) into this fire, so any support we can get from the planes would make a big difference.”

Photo taken from Toquerville, Utah, June 28, 2018 | Photo by and courtesy of Thadeous Moore, St. George News

The national Type 2 incident management team is now arriving, he said. All teams should be in the area by 1 p.m., but will not take command until Saturday morning, as it takes time to debrief the teams. Additionally, transferring over command in the middle of the day can be problematic, and things can get lost in the transfer.

“We don’t want to miss anything, and we need to make sure everyone out here is being fed and that we know where they are before the new teams take over,” Mecham said.

The incident management team will allow local fire units to fight the Dry Canyon Fire in Parowan, as well as respond to any new fires that ignite.

Read more: Crews continuing to battle Dry Canyon fire near Parowan, motorists advised to avoid SR-143

According to Utah Fire Info, there have been 27 human-caused fires reported in Utah within the last two days.

There have been no evacuations or injuries reported in the West Valley Fire, and the fire investigation is still ongoing. However, fire investigators have determined the fire to be human-caused, igniting from an abandoned campfire.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Forestry ordered the following road and trail closures through July 31:

  • Forest Road 011, from FR-35 to FR-4011.
  • Summit Trail.
  • Gardner Peak.
  • Canal Trail.
  • Water Canyon.
  • Mill Canyon.
  • White Rocks.
  • Long Flat.
  • Upper Grant Ranch.
  • Comanche and Anderson Valley.

This report is based on statements from police or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

St. George News Reporter Mikayla Shoup contributed to this report.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.  

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • bikeandfish June 29, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Sad to see these fires blow up so fast. There is so much dense, dead timber from the beetle kill in the areas we backpack in throughout the Wilderness area. I hope the forecast changes for the better and they are able to setup some aggressive line. Would hate us to lose such a unique landscape in S. Utah.

    • Bender June 29, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      Much of the deadfall is a result of over 100 years of fire suppression. We have not figured out how, as humans, to live in proximity to forests which have evolved over millennia with a natural and regular fire regime. All of our high mountain forests burn. The longer in between burns, the more is ferocious the fire and the longer the recovery. The mountain will recover; see Yellowstone for an example.

      • bikeandfish June 29, 2018 at 4:20 pm

        Totally agree about fire being part of forest ecology and our misguided history of suppressing too many natural ones. Sadly the density of dead wood is now so intense in places they actually run way too fast and hot.

        Though I don’t think the forest will “recover” in our lifetimes, at least not in how the average person views the ecosystem. If it burns south into the wilderness, the character of the area will forever change. That’s not a bad thing ecologically but it changes the human experience.

        At the end of the day, it will be what it will be. Its always interesting and educational to return to places after they burn to watch succession do its job.

        • Bender June 30, 2018 at 9:35 am

          It’s been interesting to watch the change in the character of the forest along the highways of the Kaibab Plateau (AZ 67 and US 89A) over the past twenty years as USFS has cleared and run controlled burns. What I remember as dense forest, full of dead fall, now has an open, park-like feel with enough light filtering through the thinned out mature Ponderosa canopy to allow grass and brush to thrive. It’s really beautiful to travel through. This kind of fussy “gardening” is expensive though and unlikely to happen to more than a fraction of the lands that need it, especially in rugged and inaccessible places like PV Wilderness.

          • bikeandfish June 30, 2018 at 11:56 am

            You are correct about the North Kaibab. They have done a stunning job in sections of those ponderosa forests. They are amazing places to camp.

            I

  • statusquo June 29, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Could have saved a lot of fire fighting resources if the campers had bothered to extinguish their campfire – or not lit one in the first place! Current dry conditions should preclude any outdoor burning – even cigarettes.

  • jaltair June 29, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Are there multiple people causing the 27 fires or is someone creating this? Anyone know? I did hear the one up by Pine Valley / Grass Valley was a backpacker but I haven’t seen that confirmed.

    • bikeandfish June 30, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      I can’t imagine its the same person. Its my understanding humans cause most wildfires out west but I haven’t looked at the stats in a while.

      And the West Valley Fire was an abandoned campfire (ban was already in place) which means backpacker or horsepacker.

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