Parowan cattle ranchers, helpers fill buckets with water to fight blaze near I-15

Cattle rancher Reyes Carballo uses buckets of water to douse flames on what's left of a well house, Parowan, Utah, July 2, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Kacie Carballo, St. George News / Cedar City News

PAROWAN — A quickly moving brush fire near the Interstate 15 exit in Parowan Thursday afternoon was extinguished within an hour, thanks to a swift initial reaction from local ranchers who were at the scene when it started, followed by a coordinated response by firefighters from multiple agencies.

Kendall Benson shows a Parowan Police officer where sparks originated from an overhead power line, starting a fire near Interstate 15 Exit 78, Parowan, Utah, July 2, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Kacie Carballo, St. George News / Cedar City News

The blaze, which reportedly started shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, ended up burning approximately 12 acres of the mostly empty parcel, located just east of the I-15 Exit 78 off-ramp.

Kacie Carballo, who owns Dry Lakes Beef cattle ranch along with her husband Reyes Carballo, said her husband had driven onto the property along with ranch employee Lalo Acosta and Acosta’s young son, Cedar, to turn on the pump for the ranch’s water well.

Kacie Carballo told Cedar City News that when the men pushed the start button for the pump, sparks flew from the overhead power lines and ignited the cheat grass and sagebrush below.

“A spark got under the wire,” Reyes Carballo said. “It was like a firework.”

The men happened to be driving a truck equipped with a tank for delivering drinking water to cows. After calling 911 and summoning other assistance, they immediately began filling 5-gallon buckets with water to put on the fire.

Kacie Carballo’s father, Kendall Benson, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, arrived shortly to help out, as did his son Jake Benson, along with a few other friends and neighbors.

“All of those men did a great job and helped to keep it from spreading south towards town, as well as mitigating the loss and damage to our valuable pump,” Kacie Carballo said, adding that those fighting the fire were blessed to have the water that they had available in the truck.

Cedar Acosta, 3, fills up a water bucket, assisted by his father Lalo Acosta, and Jake Benson, at the scene of a brush fire near Interstate 15 Exit 78, Parowan, Utah, July 2, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Kacie Carballo, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The firefighters did a great job to put out the rest of it,” Reyes Carballo added.

The piece of land where the fire started had been separated from the rest of the nearly 150-year-old family ranch, formerly known as Mitchell Herefords, when Interstate 15 was constructed in the early 1970s, Kacie Carballo noted. Besides the well-house shed still in use, the only other structure on the property was an unused cinder block building in the northwest corner.

“It just goes to show it can happen to anyone, at anytime,” the Carballos wrote in a post on the Dry Lakes Ranch Beef Facebook page later Thursday evening. “We lost a fence line, the well house, and the last building remaining from the old farm, but no serious damage and no lives lost. We are so thankful for that.”

Iron County Fire Warden Ryan Riddle said firefighting crews and resources from multiple agencies responded to the incident, including the Parowan, Paragonah and Brain Head fire departments, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

“Once we got units on scene, I would estimate about 45 minutes until we had the fire fully contained,” Riddle said, adding that both the northbound Interstate 15 Exit 78 offramp and Parowan’s Main Street were temporarily closed to traffic while crews battled the fire.

Riddle said it was fortunate the wind blew the fire north and west toward the adjacent roadways, rather than toward town.

“We were really concerned about it jumping Main Street and affecting the airport,” he said. “Of course, if the wind would have been coming from the north, it would have certainly had an impact to the residents there in Parowan.”

Jake Benson thanks wildland firefighting crews at the scene of a brush fire near Interstate 15 Exit 78, Parowan, Utah, Parowan, Utah, July 2, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Kacie Carballo, St. George News / Cedar City News

Riddle said the people on scene when the fire started did the right thing by promptly calling 911 first.

“Then, they had a truck that they use to water their animals with and started using buckets of water and whatever they could find to try and get that knocked down as quick as they could,” Riddle said. “But of course, with the wind and the dry conditions, it took up on them really quick.”

Shortly before heading off to respond to yet another brush fire, this one on the shoulder southbound I-15 in Cedar City early Friday afternoon, Riddle told Cedar City News that area firefighters are apprehensive about the upcoming Independence Day weekend.

“We’re extremely dry and we are really concerned about the holiday weekend, and the things that are associated with fireworks and people camping and that sort of thing,” Riddle said, adding:

We’ve ramped up our resources, but we’re also expecting dry lightning the next couple of days. We’re really nervous about what the weekend could look like, so hopefully things will work out for the best and people will help us and we can get through it safely. Pray for rain.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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