Brian Head fire increases entering Panguitch City’s watershed

PANGUITCH – The Brian Head Fire grew more than 3,500 acres in the last 24 hours expanding into Panguitch City’s watershed, a concern officials have had since the fire flared up last week and began spreading into Garfield County at an unprecedented rate.

The American flag waves in the forefront as smoke from the Brian Head fire looms over Panguitch City, Panguitch City, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

The fire is now reported at over 53,299 acres, 83 square miles, up 3,673 acres from Tuesday. The fire is 10 percent contained with the majority of containment in the Brian Head area.

Now the largest fire burning in the U.S., costs are currently estimated at $11 million with state authorities expecting the total price tag to come out to $20 million, possibly making the Brian Head Fire the most expensive fire in Utah.

Watch video top of this report.

To date, 1,555 people remain evacuated while 1,014 single residences, 94 multiple residences including 1,185 individual apartments or condominiums, 41 commercial properties and 350 minor structures continue to be threatened. There have been 13 homes destroyed and two homes damaged.

Watershed concerns

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office warned residents that the fire had entered the city’s watershed. The springs that the city receives its water from have temporarily been diverted out of the culinary system.

Smoke and ash filled the springs contaminating the city’s water source, Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said.

For now, Panguitch residents are dependent on the city’s well for its water needs. Officials have asked the public to refrain from watering outdoors with culinary water during this time.

Officials are reporting that the water system remains safe.

“For the safety of the drinking water we had to shut the springs down,” Pollock said. “But there is absolutely no safety issue right now at all with the water coming out of the well. My primary concern has always been and is now the public safety and welfare of the people of this county and we will not put them at risk.”

If the problem increases and the city is forced to take additional measures, however, the Sheriff’s Office will notify residents through the county’s Everbridge system, a reverse-911 phone method used to inform residents of emergencies.

Garfield County Sheriff James Perkins and his deputies closed Five Mile and Three Mile roads near the springs earlier in the day due to increased fire activity in the area. Even then, hours before announcing the fire had entered the water source, the sheriff said he was concerned about the city’s watershed.

Fire crews continue to do what they can to protect the city’s water source, Fire Information Officer Brandon Hampton said.

“We want to protect the watersheds but we don’t want to put any equipment in there that’s going to harm or devalue the water source like flame retardant or heavy equipment like dozers,” Hampton said. “We’re going to do what we can, but we’re going to do it with what’s in the best interest of keeping that water source open and flowing.”

Fire progression

The fire made a significant run to the northeast Tuesday ultimately reaching Indian Hollow.

While the fire continued to spread in the last 24 hours, the winds were “remarkably lighter than expected,” officials said.

On the southwestern edge, fire managers were reluctant to send firefighters in to Dark Hollow to take suppression action due to the dangerous and difficult terrain, standing dead trees and heavy timber.

Instead, fire managers conducted a burnout in the area to bring the fire perimeter to a more manageable location for firefighters to contain. Officials are now reporting the tactics appear to have been effective and will result in quicker containment of that section of perimeter.

Brian Head fire appears like a nuclear bomb Tuesday on Highway 143 near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

Along the northwestern edge of the fire, fire crews continue to make good progress on the east side of Highway 143 towards the north. Officials say they expect to have additional containment in that area soon.

Mop-up will continue on the eastern and southern flanks where dangerous snags and lava fields are slowing firefighters. On the southeastern corner, crews will mop up where winds pushed the fire across Highway 143 in spots.

In speaking to how the teams prioritize their efforts, Hampton compared the strategizing process to a chess game.

“The fire makes a move and we make a move,” Hampton said. “The fire officials we have here they’re not looking at the first move they’re looking at the eighth, ninth, tenth move down the road. So, they have contingency plans developed for every move this fire makes.”

Forecast and resources

Fire crews can expect to grapple with Red Flag weather conditions again today, the third day in a row and the seventh in the past 10 days.  Moderating weather conditions are expected to begin Thursday and continue through the next several days.

Winds at 30 miles per hour are anticipated, which fan the flames and continue to spread the fire at unprecedented rates, often leaving fire officials at a loss.

Destroyed homes and wreckage left behind from the Brian Head fire near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

“When you hear 8,000, 10,000 acre a day – that’s incredible for a timber fire,” Hampton said. “It kinda depends on where you’re at but 20, 30, 100 acres growth is pretty standard. The timber is burning like a grass fire. It’s moving at those high rates of spread.”

Officials said Tuesday that some of the large fire growth may be due to atmospheric instability. Hampton, like many other fire officials, also blamed the fast-moving fire on the dead trees infested by bark beetles.

More firefighters and equipment continue to move into the area bringing the total numbers to 14 helicopters, 71 engines, and 45 crews comprising 1,605 firefighters on scene.

Hampton is with the Type 1 Incident Management team that moved into Garfield County this last weekend. The team’s primary responsibility is to oversee the fire on the east side. The Type 2 Incident Management team remains in Parowan and will continue to work the fire in Iron County.

The Type 1 team is located in Panguitch at the command center, a complex of tents and trailers that provide both officials and firefighters everything they need – food, medical services, sleeping quarters, a mess hall, tools, equipment and showers.

Officials continue to remain optimistic they will have the fire contained by July 15 but it will be longer before it is controlled and into winter before the fire that allegedly began with a weed torch is completely out.

Community meeting

There is a community meeting scheduled Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Panguitch High School Gymnasium. Members of the Incident Management Team, community leaders, and agency representatives will be on hand to provide an overview of fire suppression activities and answer questions.

Transportation and Air Quality

Smoke will travel east of the fire with highest impact near Panguitch. In the evening hours, smoke will travel south along US 89 and continue to increase in Panguitch.

For real-time air quality monitoring go to Air Now and click on “Fires: Current Conditions” on the right-hand side of the screen to see a map. Information about wildfire smoke and health impacts can be found at the Center for Disease and Prevention.

Disclaimer: Conditions may change quickly. These predictions are based on anticipated weather and fire activity.

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.

The American Red Cross, in partnership with local emergency management, has a shelter available at Panguitch High School.

Roads, closures – Five Mile and Three Mile Roads are closed.  Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to milepost 50 outside of Panguitch.  Mammoth Creek Road is closed.  The north side gate of 143/148 is closed.  The Dixie National Forest has an area closure on lands north of Highway 14.  Please check your route before planning recreational activities.  Maps of the closure area are posted on InciWeb Incident Information System.

The Utah Department of Transportation continues to work Parowan Canyon to ensure the safety of the roadway and travelers in anticipation of reopening the road in the near future.

Event details

  • What: Community meeting – Members of the Incident Management Team, community leaders, and agency representatives will be on hand to provide an overview of fire suppression activities and answer questions.
  • When: Wednesday, June 28, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Panguitch High School Gymnasium, Panguitch.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • Brian June 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    This fire and the decisions that lead to it are such a good analogy for the ruin that comes out of many liberal policies (see Detroit, Baltimore, etc as examples). Conservative locals have known this day was coming for 15 years because its the natural, predictable consequence of shutting down all logging and not spraying for bark beetles. Yes, it’s “natures way”, but so are pandemics and serious disease. Should we stop medications and vaccines since they interfere with natural cycles?

    Similarly, its no surprise that it was during the over-regulating “capitalism is evil” obama era that more businesses went under than were created for the first time on record. Just like its no surprise that Seattle is finding that raising the minimum wage so high, so quick is killing jobs. Just like its no surprise that getting government involved in healthcare has caused premiums and deductibles to skyrocket. Just like its no surprise that the government getting involved in student loans caused a massive and continuing spike in tuition costs and debt. Just like its no surprise that the government changing to buy any and all mortgages caused a massive bubble leading to the 2007 crash.

    It is worth noting that some of these examples fell under “republican” “leadership” (I used that word VERY loosely), but the actions in question were done by progressives, with conservatives screaming at the top of their lungs against it (which led to the creation of the tea party).

    The next big fire and smoking ruin may very well be our economy… I guess we should get used to it.

    • comments June 28, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      “It is worth noting that some of these examples fell under “republican” “leadership””

      Some? The Bush II regime was responsible for the largest housing bubble in history, the near total collapse of the entire US economy, $4.50/gallon+ gasoline, 2 failed wars, etc etc etc. Or were these not “real republicans”? Brian, I want to think you’re a little reasonable, but you keep proving to be an idiot. To say that republican policy is only responsible for “some” failures it sounds more like downplaying their faults, and “it’s all the libruls’ fault”. You are a wingnutter and I’d be willing to bet you’re a hypocrite in many respects. The cherry on the cake is that you are an LDS’er, so I shouldn’t be surprised. cheers bri 😉

      • comments June 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm

        as far as this fire, is it all “the libruls’ fault”? Somehow I doubt it. I’m not gonna dig into it but I bet the failure was in large part from failures on a local level. I’ve seen how yocals and state gov’t manage things and failure is what they’re good at, putting aside the yocal clown w/ the weed torch. “It’s all the libruls’ fault” feeds the idiots exactly what they want to hear like giving candy to retarded children. I think you’re one of them, bri 😉

  • delong June 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Funny how those complaining about this fire are the same people (including local politicians) that were complaining about the proactive efforts for Prescribed Fire near Bryce Canyon last year. Gotta love the hypocrisy! This fire is just one of many to come this year. Buckle up folks. Wildfires are natural occurrences contrary to popular belief.

    Let’s also just forget the fact the Brian Head Fire was on Private Land only for four days. Well done managing the private land.

    On a serious note, God Bless our Firefighters that continue to put themselves in harms way to protect private property that isn’t maintained.

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