UPDATE: 3:34 p.m. — Washington County public safety officials issued a statement reminding Pine Valley residents to “be aware that ALL RECREATION AREAS are CLOSED. This includes all trails and roads that access the Dixie National Forest, the reservoir and the campground.”
New photos added at the bottom of this report.
ST. GEORGE — Washington County public safety officials and Saddle Fire managers have lifted the mandatory evacuation for Pine Valley residents who live in the Lloyd Canyon area.
The mandatory evacuation for residents was lifted Thursday at noon, according to the U.S. Forest Service. However, officials said residents should continue to remain prepared to evacuate in the event the Saddle Fire conditions change.
“Fire personnel will still be working, so we are asking for people to avoid the area voluntarily for the time being,” the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday afternoon.
Area closures in and around the Pine Valley area remain in effect on the Dixie National Forest. The Pine Valley Recreation Area also remains closed to all uses.
The lightning-caused fire is located on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest approximately 2 miles southwest of the Pine Valley community. The fire remains zero percent contained and has increased in size to an estimated 823 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said. Putting that into perspective, one acre is roughly equivalent to one football field, not including the end zones.
When 100 homes in the Lloyd Canyon area became threatened by the fire activity Tuesday, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher declared a state of emergency, prompting Gov. Gary Herbert to visit the area Wednesday, where he received a briefing about the Saddle Fire and addressed the community of Pine Valley.
“Home evacuations likely could have been avoided if drones had not interrupted air attack on the fire,” Herbert said. “That is completely unacceptable. Residents of Utah, stop flying drones over fires. Get out of the way and let firefighters do their job.”
Multiple drone intrusions compromised the safety of aircraft and fire crews and further hampered firefighting efforts when the intrusions resulted in air resources being pulled from the fire line Monday, allowing for the fire to progress toward Pine Valley.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwestern Special Service District are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the drone operator who interfered in Saddle Fire suppression efforts.
Record high temperatures in the fire area also contribute to the fire activity and make suppression activities more difficult, fire officials said.
High winds, steep slopes and rocky terrain with limited safety zones and limited access kept firefighters from safely attacking the fire in its early stages on the ground. Firefighters are scouting the ridge lines to find possible holding areas to keep the fire away from the community of Pine Valley while crews continue to improve the fuel break around Pine Valley.
There are currently six Type I Interagency hotshot crews, four Type II initial attack crews, one Type III incident management team, eight engines, one Type III helicopter (based in Pine Valley – carries up to 100 gallons) and two Type I helicopters (based in Cedar City – carries up to 700 gallons), along with 357 firefighters and support staff working to control the blaze.
For explanation on the differences between Types I, II and III command, read St. George News’ previous coverage of the 2012 Shingle Fire.
Fire managers and public safety officials will hold a community meeting to provide fire information and situation updates for the Saddle Fire. The community meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Pine Valley Fire Station, 680 E. Main St. For more information, call Saddle Fire Information at 435-590-2736.
- InciWeb Saddle Fire information
- Information about areas closed on the Dixie National Forest can be found on the InciWeb Saddle Fire page
- Anyone with information regarding drones flying in the area of the Saddle Fire should contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 435-634-5734
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