ST. GEORGE — Residents began trickling back to their homes in Brian Head and surrounding communities Friday and Saturday after an 11-day evacuation order displaced over 1,500 people as firefighters continue to battle one of the largest wildfires in recent decades.
The Brian Head Fire has reached 60 percent containment and stands at 60,301 acres, or 94.22 square miles, burned, according to a news release issued by Color Country Interagency Fire Center Saturday morning. Fifty crews composed of over 1,800 personnel have been performing mop-up of hot spots as well as planning in the event of further fire perimeter growth.
Watch video top of this report.
The evacuation order for Brian Head and Dry Lakes has been lifted. Residents and visitors will need to travel via Highway 14 thru Cedar Breaks National Monument, as Parowan Canyon remains closed due to continued utility, roadway and firefighting rehabilitation work.
The following communities remain evacuated per local law enforcement: Upper Bear Valley, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Clear Creek, Castle Valley, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows and Second Left Hand Canyon. All evacuations are being evaluated daily. Evacuees can contact the Red Cross for shelter information.
Firefighters and equipment will continue to patrol the fire perimeter around the Town of Brian Head and along Highway 143 through Parowan Canyon.
Containment efforts have improved thanks in part to lighter winds, which have reduced the extreme fire behavior previously faced by firefighters. Dozers have been used extensively in the northeastern flank of the fire where there is little containment.
Residents return home
Brian Head residents have begun returning to their homes and cabins over the weekend.
“The people we talked to were really stoked to be back,” Scott Young, a visitor from Washington County, said.
The town itself is still as green and beautiful as ever, Young said, noting that the firefighters worked diligently to save cabins, homes and ski resort property from encroaching flames.
“Some people say it’s been a miracle Brian Head was saved. It wasn’t a miracle; it was a lot of hard work by a really dedicated team of firefighters that we really appreciate,” Clayton Calloway, Brian Head Town Council member, said.
Calloway is also the owner of Apple Annie’s Country Store in Brian Head, which he said was saved in the nick of time when flame retardant was dropped in the area.
“We just got up to the town of Brian Head today and we are just immensely relieved to see that our cabin has been saved,” Cyndi Castro, a cabin owner in Brian Head, said. “We are just extremely grateful to the firefighters and all the men and women who put their lives on the line to save our little piece of heaven.”
“We really did dodge a bullet,” Castro said. “Just looking at our property, the fire came right up to our neighbor’s back door.”
While the town itself was saved from the brunt of the blaze, the surrounding horizon is charred.
“It’s humbling to see the devastation of the fire. You can still see smoke coming out of the trees. The country back towards Yankee Meadows looks like a nuke hit it,” Young said, noting that the area leading to Panguitch Lake appears to have been thoroughly burned.
A somber weekend
Young said he observed mostly residents and resort employees returning, with little sign of the bustle of tourists typical to the area on Independence Day weekend in previous years.
“We just barely got back here on Thursday and we were kind of able to reopen business and we’ve been in a big rush to stock up for what is usually our busiest weekend for almost the whole year,” Calloway said.
Events previously planned in anticipation of the Fourth of July holiday were canceled.
“It’s a little dead right now, and the future’s a little uncertain for business,” Calloway said.
Young, who is an avid outdoorsman, said he hopes to see visitors return to Brian Head soon to take advantage of the myriad recreational opportunities still available despite the fire, as well as to support the residents who make their livelihood in part through tourism.
Five Mile and Three Mile Roads are closed. Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to Brian Head and from the intersection of Highway 148 and 143 to Panguitch Lake. Mammoth Creek Road is closed from Mammoth Creek to the north, with no access to 143. The Dixie National Forest has an area closure on lands north of Highway 14. Maps of the closure area are posted at InciWeb.
The Iron County Sheriff’s Office announced in a tweet that state Route 143 will be open from Brian Head to Panguitch Lake at noon Sunday.
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