Mechanical failure on I-15 ignites rapidly spreading brush fire near Pioneer Road

ST. GEORGE — A brush fire reported just west of the Pioneer Road exit on southbound Interstate 15 spread within minutes as strong winds picked up in the area.

Smoke visible from Pioneer Road during a brush fire west of southbound Interstate 15 near Exit 4, St. George, Utah, Aug. 7, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Shortly before 11 a.m., firefighters were dispatched to the fire just south of Exit 4 where flames were spreading through brush and trees near the shoulder of the freeway.

Just as fire crews were arriving, the winds began picking up, which caused the fire to move quickly.

“Those winds caused the fire to pretty much blow up and quickly spread through the thick brush and trees,” St. George Battalion Chief Robert Hooper said.

Reinforcements were called in at that point, and three engines, a ladder truck and four brush trucks were quickly dispatched to the scene. Firefighters worked to extinguish the flames that were spreading over a large area of light fuels, including dry brush and grasses, before spreading to some dry trees located just feet from Pioneer Road.

Sunroc Corporation employees also joined the firefighting effort with a water tender truck on I-15 near the fire.

As the winds picked up, embers blew through the area, presenting significant potential for property loss had the fire “jumped Pioneer Road and gotten into the homes,” Hooper said, noting that extreme wind conditions could have enabled the embers to spread in the direction of the homes to the west.

More than an acre is burned after a brush fire west of southbound Interstate 15 near Exit 4, St. George, Utah, Aug. 7, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Firefighting efforts were also hampered by gusty winds that changed direction, as well as dry brush burning along the downward slope just west of the interstate.

Overall, a combination of factors helped stoke Wednesday’s fire, including fuel, weather and topography, making suppression efforts difficult.

“We had all of the right conditions here for crazy fire behavior,” Hooper said.

After approximately 45 minutes, the fire was contained, and with the active flames extinguished, crews began the mop-up phase, which consists of looking for any hot spots and dousing burning embers that can potentially reignite and spread.

The fire was determined to have started when a dump truck heading south on I-15 had some type of mechanical failure. The driver pulled off the interstate onto the shoulder, at which time either sparks or flames coming from the truck caught the grass and brush on fire, which then spread, according to officials.

The St. George Fire Department was assisted by the St. George Police Department, Gold Cross Ambulance, Sunroc Corporation, Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation’s Incident Management Team.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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