Fire crews worked to put out two fires Friday, together totaling approximately eight acres in the Cedar City area, June 10, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George/Cedar City News
CEDAR CITY — Authorities were busy Friday afternoon working to put out two separate fires in the Cedar City area – one of them threatening a few adjacent homes.
Fire crews were still in the process of cleaning up one fire on Lund Highway that had started around 1 p.m. when they were dispatched two hours later to another one located just a mile away at 2200 North and 2300 West.
The first fire burned a little more than six acres and came within 50 feet of some nearby homes.
“The fire was close to those homes,” said Cedar City Fire Chief Mike Phillips. “If we hadn’t got there and put out the fire as quickly as we did the fire really could have done some serious damage.”
As it was, a woodshed caught fire but crews were able to put it out before flames completely enveloped the building, Phillips said. Several piles of cedar posts used for fencing also caught fire.
Authorities believe the first fire was caused by a gopher bomb, Phillips said. Similar to a smoke bomb, a gopher bomb is lit and then thrown into a gopher hole where it is meant to smoke out the animals.
A spark from the bomb hit the cheatgrass surrounding the hole and ignited the fire, Phillips said.
“There is cheatgrass everywhere and it’s dry. So a spark from the bomb hit the grass and caught fire and once that cheatgrass starts burning it just keeps going and fast,” Phillips said.
Similar to the first incident, the second fire resulted from a spark hitting some cheatgrass.
In this case, a farmer was harvesting his field when his farm equipment created a spark that ignited the cheatgrass that was in the immediate area. It burned approximately an acre, Phillips said, before crews were able to contain it.
Firefighters have already worked more fires this season than the previous two years combined due to the dry undergrowth, largely cheatgrass which is in abundance, Phillips said.
“The conditions this year are perfect for fires. The last two years we’ve had dry winters and a lot of moisture in the summers that kept things damp,” Phillips said. “This year, we had a lot of snow so now we have a lot of cheatgrass and vegetation drying out. But, unlike the last two years where it was raining every 10 days or so during the summer we haven’t had a lot of rain or moisture to help keep the ground wet. What we need is some rain.”
Phillips asked the public to be mindful of the existing conditions and to be careful this fire season.
Fire crews from the Cedar City Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands were all on scene helping to put out and contain the fires.