LITTLEFIELD, Ariz. — A Mohave County Sheriff’s deputy was injured Monday night as a Littlefield farmer’s agricultural burn quickly spread out of control, jumping Interstate 15 and subsequently closing down both northbound and southbound travel along the interstate.
At approximately 5:30 p.m. MST, several I-15 motorists passing through Littlefield began calling 911 to report flames on the south side of the freeway along the Virgin River, Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said.
“I received some additional calls from my troopers who said this was getting bigger and bigger and getting closer to the interstate,” Bottoms said.
At that time, Beaver Dam-Littlefield Fire Chief Jeff Hunt was dispatching fire crews to assess the need for fire units to respond. Crews arrived and determined that the fire was growing in size and that they needed to start suppressing the flames.
Bottoms said as winds picked up just before 6:30 p.m., the fire jumped from the south side of the interstate to the north side and into an area with heavy, dense brush and dry vegetation.
Hunt estimated that within an hour, the fire had consumed well in excess of 20 acres and, by 9 p.m., the blaze had burned 30 to 40 acres.
With flames reaching approximately 30 feet in height, Hunt said, it became necessary to shut down I-15 from Exit 2 in Utah to the Beaver Dam-Littlefield off-ramp in Arizona. Freeway traffic was rerouted to Old Highway 91 through Beaver Dam and into Santa Clara.
“We have received information from UHP and UDOT that the traffic volume in St. George is extremely heavy and that there are a number of commercial vehicles parking in neighborhoods and areas surrounding the freeway,” Bottoms said at the scene Monday night. “Traffic is very heavy on Old Highway 91. It is practically bumper to bumper coming out of St. George all the way back to Interstate 15 into Arizona.”
However, traffic became less of a concern as the fire soon threatened structures and homes. Residents living in the area were told to be prepared to evacuate. While assisting homeowner’s, a Mohave County Sheriff’s deputy was seriously injured and subsequently transported to the hospital.
The deputy was on the roof of a home spraying it down with a garden hose when he slipped and fell and broke his left leg, Arizona DPS Trooper Thomas Callister said. The deputy was transported by ambulance to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George to be treated for his injuries.
“It appeared the fire got about 50 yards from the homes,” Callister said.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, no home evacuations had been necessary, he said.
At 10:40 p.m., northbound I-15 was open to motorists. Southbound I-15 was reopened at approximately 11 p.m.
It will be at least a day or two before the fire is contained, Hunt said, adding that it will take several days before the fire is completely knocked out.
The fire is still under investigation for the determination of how it was caused, BLM Fire Operations Specialist and Incident Commander Shawn Jaca said.
“A problem we have is, tomorrow, typically, we’ll have winds in here,” Jaca said, “and then the sun will heat it up, and we’ll end up being in the situation we were in earlier – all these embers will come up and start throwing sparks out where we don’t want them, and now, we’ve got new fires starting.”
Beaver Dam-Littlefield Fire, Mesquite Fire, Arizona Strip Bureau of Land Management, Dixie National Forest and Bunkerville Fire, Arizona Department of Transportation, Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety and medical personnel responded to the blaze Monday night, Jaca said.
This report is based on preliminary information provided by emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.