Brian Head town to open, fire continues to spread on east side

Brian Head fire as it appeared on Highway 143 near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

BRIAN HEAD – Brian Head will officially be open for business again Friday after 11 days of evacuations that began with a fire that quickly grew out of control and today measures more than 83 square miles.

The 54,202-acre fire grew nearly 1,000 more acres throughout the day Wednesday but with 15 percent now contained, all of it primarily in Brian Head, the town is planning to repopulate Friday morning at 7 a.m., Town Manager Bret Howser said. Additionally, Dry Lakes will be reopened.

“At this time, the two Great Basin Incident Management Teams assigned to the fire feel comfortable that the fire perimeter around the community is completely contained and the threat to the community is abated,” a news release issued by Color Country Fire Interagency stated.

Approximately 750 people were evacuated from the ski resort town June 17 after a blaze broke out after an unidentified individual allegedly used a weed torch to burn vegetation surrounding his cabin. Now the fire is considered the largest in the nation with costs currently reaching $11 million.

But for Brian Head, the nightmare is nearly over. Power is already on in the town, however the internet and phones will not be active until sometime Friday.

“It’s supposed to be on some time Friday but we don’t know when exactly so people visiting the area just need to bring cash just in case the businesses can’t run credit cards yet,” Howser said.

The town also plans to hold its four-day Fourth of July celebration but without the fireworks this year.

Residents and visitors will still have to enter through state Route 14 as state Route 143 between Brian Head and Parowan remains closed to give fire crews an opportunity to continue additional clean-up. The Highway 148/143 junction to mile marker 50 outside of Panguitch and access to Highway 143 via the Dry Lakes Road are also closed. Summit Mountain Road is now open.

An extensive closure remains effective for the Dixie National Forest.

These closures are for the safety of the public and the firefighters; the burned area contains numerous hazards such as dead trees and interior hot spots,” the news release stated.

As containment near the town of Brian Head and Parowan Canyon increases, a portion of the firefighting resources assigned to the west side will be shifted to the east side of the fire.

Wind gusts over the Brian Head fire Wednesday reached over 30 miles per hour and humidity was in the single digits. Fire activity was not nearly as extreme as witnessed on previous days due to the area the fire is now moving into since it contains the type of fuels that give crews a higher chance of success. Still, it continues to burn in very steep and challenging terrain.

The fire reached Five Mile Ridge in the afternoon, continuing to encroach on the Panguitch watershed. The fire has not advanced any further near Mammoth Creek or Panguitch Lake.

Fire managers continue to improve containment lines on the southeastern corner of the fire in preparation for a wind shift on Friday that will bring a northwesterly flow.

Another Red Flag warning has been issued for Thursday. More wind gusts are also expected as a cold front passes through the area.

Winds are forecast to decrease ahead of a high-pressure ridge bringing above-normal temperatures to Southern Utah Friday.

More firefighters continue to be added Wednesday with 48 crews comprising of 1,729 firefighters now working the area. In the mix are 14 helicopters and 82 engines.

Expect smoky inversions Thursday. Those sensitive to the smoke, especially young children and the elderly, should limit outdoor activities. Visit the Center for Disease Control for additional health information.

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 – 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. Check your route before planning recreational activities. Maps of the closure area are posted at Incident Information System.

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, with access via Highway 14.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @tracie_sullivan

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

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