UPDATED: Fire that started with blown tire on I-15 in Leeds now 3,000 acres, power outages possible

LEEDS — The Cottonwood Trail Fire has grown to more than 3,000 acres after it was started by a blown tire on Interstate 15 near mile marker 17 shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Northbound I-15 has reopened travel as of 7:15 p.m., while the southbound side remains closed, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.  

Flames of the Cottonwood Trail Fire near Leeds, Utah, on July 19, 2020. | Photo courtesy Shela Lambert, St. George News

Updated July 19, 10:40 p.m.: Southbound I-15 is now open, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.

Updated July 19, 9 p.m.: Video added, power outages possible, Harrisburg evacuation lifted.

Authorities with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office have issued a mandatory evacuation order for the western areas of Leeds as well as Silver Reef. Residents are asked to use Old Highway 91 north to Toquerville.

An earlier evacuation order for the southern area of Leeds and Harrisburg has been lifted.

American Red Cross is set up at the Grafton building at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Rocky Mountain Power said power outages are possible throughout Washington County because of the fire after firefighters asked for outages to help mitigate flames near transmission structures. Approximately 5,211 customers are out and expected to remain so until 12:30 a.m. Residents can report an outage by texting OUT to 759677.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Hurricane Valley Fire and Rescue was dispatched to I-15 just north of the Hurricane Exit on a brush fire that reportedly started from a blown tire, and were soon joined by multiple local, state and federal fire departments, according to a statement released by Mike Melton, Fire Manager for the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. 

The fire spread quickly, driven by strong winds and dry conditions as it continued in the direction of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and then spread north along the interstate. 

A video of the fire that includes helicopter footage courtesy of Paul Budge can be viewed at the top of this report. 

By 4:30 p.m. the fire spread across to the northbound side of the interstate just north of Exit 16, which stopped all northbound traffic as firefighters continued fighting the blaze. 

Multiple air tankers and other aircraft were brought in and began making multiple retardant and water drops near the freeway. 

Firefighting aircraft over the Cottonwood Trail Fire near Leeds, Utah, on July 19, 2020. | Photo courtesy Shela Lambert, St. George News

Meanwhile, traffic was diverted to the southbound side using the emergency turn out lane until the northbound side of I-15 was cleared for travel roughly 45 minutes later. 

At the same time, fire crews were battling the fire that continued to spread quickly to the west, as more than 30 engines,  three large air tankers, four helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were brought in to drop retardant and water. 

Three hours after it started, the Cottonwood Trail Fire has spread to more than 3,000 acres, according to an update released by Utah Fire Info at 6:30 p.m. 

Southbound I-15 near Leeds remains closed, with a two sections of I-15 in both directions near Leeds are closed as firefighters continue battling the blaze. 

One firefighter has been injured and transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation, Melton reported. 

Shortly after 6 p.m., an evacuation order was issued for the town of Harrisburg and parts of Leeds, primarily the homes west of I-15.

Additionally, the Red Cliffs campground has also been evacuated.  

Shortly after 7:10 p.m., northbound I-15 was opened for travel.

This is a developing story.

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

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