Pine Valley Saddle Fire rages on, advances toward fuel breaks

Lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Saddle Fire in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest continues to rage on, increasing in size by nearly 100 acres Monday and now burning at 1,329 acres with five percent containment. Officials said backing fires have advanced the fire perimeter closer to the fuel breaks around Pine Valley.

Heavy helicopter picking up fire retardant to assist operations on the lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 27, 2016 | Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News
Heavy helicopter picking up fire retardant to assist operations on the lightning-caused fire burning on Saddle Mountain in the Pine Valley Wilderness of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 27, 2016 | Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

Fire managers have scheduled a public meeting Monday evening to update the community on fire operations.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office Monday is still asking residents and property owners to voluntarily evacuate the area given the risk and fast moving flames and to limit the number of people in the area threatened by fire.

Fire personnel have identified approximately 500 at-risk properties in the burn area.

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.

There are currently 675 firefighters and supporting resources assigned to the incident, fighting the lightning-caused fire day and night, the U.S. Forest Service said Monday. The estimated cost to date for fighting the fire is $4.5 million.

Fire crews are using aerial ignition operations Monday to check the fire on the southeast side on the main ridge on the west of the avalanche chute in Forsyth Canyon, according to Forest Service officials. Air tankers and heavy helicopters have used more than 22,000 gallons of retardant and water to prevent the fire from moving onto the southern face of Saddle Mountain.

“While day crews improve fuel breaks and scout the terrain, night crews,” fire officials said, “including engines and hotshot crews patrol areas threatened by the fire, prepared to pick up spot fires and encroaching flames if needed.”

Incident Meteorologist Jeff Colton and his team prepared a weather balloon for launch Monday. The balloon will measure temperature, relative humidity, wind speeds, wind direction and atmospheric pressure readings as it rises through the atmosphere, Washington County, Utah, June 27, 2016 | Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News
Incident Meteorologist Jeff Colton and his team prepared a weather balloon for launch Monday. The balloon will measure temperature, relative humidity, wind speeds, wind direction and atmospheric pressure readings as it rises through the atmosphere, Washington County, Utah, June 27, 2016 | Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

Incident Meteorologist Jeff Colton and his team prepared a weather balloon for launch Monday morning. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the balloon will measure temperature, relative humidity, wind speeds, wind direction and atmospheric pressure readings as it rises through the atmosphere.

“These measurements provide better accuracy for computer modeling to predict the weather over the Saddle Fire,” fire managers said. “Understanding what the local weather will do over a wildfire is critical to safety, long term planning, strategy, and tactics. Weather is one of the major factors that will predict how a wildfire will burn.”

With the fire burning in areas filled with unnecessary risk and hazards to firefighters, officials said Sunday, fire managers believe a significant moisture event is needed for multiple days to extinguish the blaze.

The National Weather Service issued a fire weather alert Sunday afternoon, forecasting thunderstorms and widely scattered showers over Southern Utah for Tuesday. According to the alert, however, the storm may produce gusty outflow winds and lightning, the combination of which could well fuel existing fires and contribute to new fire starts in the region.

The fire remains most active in the Lloyd and Forsyth canyons, burning mostly in the downed logs and underbrush in the conifer stands.

Fire growth will continue to the east, northeast and southeast in Lloyd Canyon with limited spread to the northwest and west, officials said. Areas with live, green oak and mahogany are limiting the spread of the fire.

Saddle Fire managers will hold a fire operations update meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Central Fire Station, 155 E. Center Street, Central.

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