BRIAN HEAD – State and local politicians are blaming the Brian Head fire in part on environmentalists who, they said, are responsible for the quick-growing fire that in just a week has destroyed nearly 50,000 acres of forest and several structures.
“When we turned the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree-huggers and the rock-lickers, we turn our history over,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said during a news conference Monday in Brian Head.
“And the fire is going to do more damage because we’re going to lose our watersheds. We’re going to lose our soils. We’re going to lose our wildlife. We’re going to lose our scenery – the very things you people (environmentalists) wanted to protect. It’s just plain stupidity.”
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Noel said he believes President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will now “fix this problem.”
In an emotional plea to the public, Noel showed several pictures taken by Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins of the fire area. The pictures showed what Noel said was an unlogged area destroyed by the fire, while another picture of tree stumps among unburned trees represented the results of logging.
The Utah representative pointed fingers at “The Friends of the Dixie National Forest,” for stopping the logging in 1993 via a lawsuit in U.S. District Court and in turn, Noel said, allowed the beetles to overtake the forest.
“The Friends of the Dixie National Forest,” was an environmental group that stated its goal was to protect the natural and scenic values of the forest. However, many locals now blame the organization for the fire.
“Where are the Friends of Dixie now?” Noel asked. “Where’s the Grand Canyon Trust? Where’s the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance? They’re not here when this disaster happens.”
Echoing Noel’s sentiments, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said he agreed that the inability to manage the forests has “led to more destruction.”
The cost of the Brian Head fire is quickly approaching $10 million but could rise as high as $20 million, possibly making it the most expensive fire in the state, Cox said. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are sharing the costs since some of the fire is not only on state and local lands but also federal lands.
However, Cox admitted that price tag does not include future costs that may result from the fire’s aftermath.
“Then there’s the costs that come after that (the fire),” Cox said. “The erosion that happens, the landslides that happen. The roads … So yes, yes, it’s absolutely correct that we’ve mismanaged our forest and it’s leading to more of these catastrophic fires.”
Meanwhile, fire crews were busy working the fire scene Monday afternoon as the red flag warning helped to spread the fire to 46,000 acres, nearly another 3,000 acres from this morning when officials reported it at 43,436.
The fire remains 10 percent contained with most of that in the Brian Head area where the fire began June 17.
More than 300 firefighters joined the 37 crews Monday making the total number of firefighters 1,427. There are now 67 fire engines, 18 more than in the morning, along with 13 helicopters.
The Type 1 Incident Management team also officially began work Monday morning and is now overseeing the fire suppression on the east side of the Brian Head fire from Panguitch. The Type 2 team remains in command of the western side of the fire from Parowan. Tim Roide is the incident commander for the Type 2 team while Kim Martin is the incident commander for the Type 1 team. The two teams will coordinate closely to ensure the safety of the public and the firefighters.
Southwest winds returned to the area Monday causing the fire to increase in activity, officials said.
On the northern perimeter of the fire, wind gusts around 30 mph fanned 100-foot flame lengths and caused spotting of a half mile.
Red Flag weather conditions are expected through Wednesday, indicating a high potential for extreme fire behavior.
Fire crews are looking several miles north of the fire perimeter, to where the fuels change from old-growth timber to sage and grass, before they expect more successful suppression efforts.
Employees from the Department of Transportation and local utility companies worked in Parowan Canyon to assess damage from the fire and make infrastructure repairs in anticipation of opening Brian Head soon.
The town continues to have power; however, other utilities are still disrupted and the roadway requires some minor attention, a news release issued by Color Country Fire Interagency stated. Additionally, officials are concerned about falling trees and other debris regarding safe travel up the mountain. To solve this issue, numerous dead trees located adjacent to the highway will be cut down to ensure they do not block travelers.
Firefighters plan to work off the constructed dozer line Tuesday, along with the southern flank of the fire to clean up remaining hot spots and strengthen the containment line. They will also continue to secure and mop up any hot spots that remain around structures in the Panguitch Lake area.
Current evacuations – The following communities remain evacuated per local law enforcement: Upper Bear Valley, Panguitch Lake, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Castle Valley, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows, Mammoth Creek, Dry Lakes, Second Left Hand Canyon, and the town of Brian Head. Evacuees can contact the Red Cross for shelter information. If you live in an area affected by wildland fires, officials recommend familiarizing yourself with the Ready, Set, Go Program (http://wildlandfirersg.org/).
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. The Dixie National Forest has expanded its area closure to include Forest lands north of Highway 14. Check your route before planning recreational activities. Maps of the closure area are posted at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5253/.
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