BRIAN HEAD – The Brian Head fire grew more than 10,000 acres overnight as the winds picked up and is spreading the fire toward Mammoth Creek, where officials say evacuations have begun.
For the first time since the fire started Saturday, residents of Cedar City woke Friday morning to a smoke-filled valley as red flag warning conditions that included higher temperatures and gusty winds continued to fan the flames overnight.
Late afternoon Thursday, the anticipated shift in winds caused more southeasterly growth, and by 10 p.m. the fire was reported to be approximately 17,000 acres; by Friday morning at 6 a.m. it had spread to 27,744 acres as prevailing winds continued to push the fire northeast.
Evacuations in Mammoth Creek have been ordered, and the Red Cross continues to staff and operate a shelter at Panguitch High School following evacuation from Panguitch Lake. Sources say if the fire continues pushing in the same direction, Duck Creek could be in trouble as well.
“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. It just depends on mother nature,” Brett Ostler, the alternate governor’s authorized representative, said. “The firefighters are doing everything they absolutely can to stay ahead of the power curve. Right now, it’s relatively calm on the mountain, but that could change.”
The fire also continued spreading down Clear Creek, and nine additional residences and six outbuildings were lost overnight. This brings the total number of structures lost to 13 residences and eight outbuildings.
The fire is 5 percent contained, with most of that in the Brian Head area.
While officials have come under pressure by several county commissioners to increase the incident management team to Type 1 instead of where it’s at now as an Incident Type 2, Ostler advised against that move.
According to a previous Cedar City News report, incident management types depend upon four things: complexity level, resources required, risks associated with and duration of a fire. As these conditions increase, incident management types elevate from Type 5 to Type 1.
“An Incident Type 1 team isn’t going to bring in more firefighters or equipment or resources,” Ostler said. “All it does is increase the management part of the team, those sitting behind the desk, and makes it a bigger organization. I have full confidence in the team and the plan they have. We just need some cooperation with mother nature.”
Ostler also blamed the growing fire in part on the lack of logging that came to a halt 20 years ago resulting in the destruction of many of the trees by the bark beetle.
“We have a mortality rate of 30 to 50 percent,” Ostler said.
He compared the dead wood to kindling often used to fuel campfires that he said a “bigger management team” isn’t going to be able to change. Ostler said:
There is absolutely nothing more an Incident Type 1 team is going to be able to do. An Incident Type 1 team is not going to change the outcome of this fire. That dead and down wood in that forest is acting as a fuel source, and the fact is, when the federal government through environmental policy shut down logging that mountain became a tinderbox and a disaster waiting to happen and now we are facing the consequences. And it’s not just in Utah or on Cedar Mountain; it’s throughout the entire western United States.
More resources continue to arrive on the fire, including additional experienced fire managers to meet the demands of a very challenging incident.
“This staff builds the operational plan to best deploy resources and meet the objectives of safety, property protection, and ultimate containment of the fire,” a news release issued by Color Country Fire Interagency stated.
A red flag warning has again been issued for today. As smoke continues to impact nearby communities, those who are sensitive to the smoke – including children and the elderly – should consult their health care physician for advice, limit time spent outdoors and avoid overexertion.
Current evacuations– Additional evacuations have been issue today. Panguitch Lake, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows, Mammoth Creek, Dry Lakes, Second Left Hand Canyon and the town of Brian Head are all under evacuation by local law enforcement. Evacuees can contact the Red Cross for shelter information.
Closures – Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to milepost 50 outside of Panguitch. Mammoth Creek Road is closed at the junction with Highway 143. The north side gate of 143/148 is closed; however, Cedar Breaks National Monument is open with access via Highway 14. The Dixie National Forest has expanded its area closure. Please check your route before planning recreational activities.
The Brian Head Fire started around midday Saturday, June 17, and grew very quickly through dense timber on lands administered by Brian Head Town, Iron County, in cooperation with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. It has since burned on to lands managed by Dixie National Forest and Color Country District Bureau of Land Management. Cedar Breaks National Monument remains open.
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