Brian Head Fire: Biggest fire in the country at 43,436 acres, 11 areas evacuated


By Holly Coombs
holly@ironcountytoday.com

BRIAN HEAD, UTAH –   It’s being reported the biggest fire in the country, and as of Monday morning the Brian Head Fire had grown to 43,436 acres with 10 percent containment.

As of Monday morning, evacuations include Upper Bear Valley due to forecast winds as well as already evacuated 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, according to Brian Head Fire Department.

“If you live in an area affected by wildland fires, officials recommend familiarizing yourself with the Ready, Set, Go Program (wildlandfirersg.org/), the report stated.

Southern Utah University President Scott L. Wyatt opened university dorms to displaced residents of the fire ravaged town of Brian Head, according to a press release.

“We are deeply saddened by the devastating fire in nearby Brian Head,” Wyatt said. “We are making the dorms available to families in need of housing.”

 The town recently issued a Wildfire Emergency Declaration. The declaration “sought aid, assistance and relief” and SUU answered the call.

“Summer is a busy time for us with athletic camps, but we will make six of our apartments in our residence hall, Eccles A, available to those needing temporary housing,” Chris Ralphs, director of university housing, said.

According to the Utah Division of Emergency Management Situation Report, one home is destroyed and two homes are damaged. 407 single residences, 90 multiple residences (including 1,135 individual apartments or condominiums), 38 commercial properties, and 220 minor structures are threatened. Five more people were evacuated on June 21, and 750 remain evacuated.

 SUU will have room for up to 60 people.

“The apartments are designed for families, so if families need somewhere to stay, they are welcome here,” Ralphs said.

The apartment style residence halls are complete with kitchen and bathrooms. The Aviation program at SUU also donated time in helicopters for aid in the fire to news agencies.

A Red Flag warning was set in effect Monday, indicating that weather conditions may lead to rapid fire growth. 

“Strong southwest winds return to the area, causing concern for fire managers on the northern perimeter of the fire,” a fire update stated.  (Sunday), a dozer constructed indirect fireline, away from the current fire perimeter, across Horse Valley.  Air tankers dropped retardant immediately adjacent to the dozer line with the intent that the retardant should minimize the ability of embers to start spot fires across the dozer line.” 

Additional dozer line was constructed along the northeast corner, according to the update information.  Due to the lighter fuels in that area, managers are optimistic that they will be able to contain that section of the fire line.

With 1,140 personnel including 14 helicopters, 49 engines and 36 crews, the effort to continue to secure the southern perimeter of the fire to slow its progression toward Mammoth Creek continues.  Personnel will also be scouting out ahead of the fire to the north and south to be prepared if the fire activity picks up and moves the fire in those directions.

Kim Martin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is now overseeing fire suppression on the eastern side of the Brian Head Fire from Panguitch.  Tim Roide’s Type 2 Team remains in command of the western side of the fire from Parowan.  The two teams will coordinate closely to ensure the safety of the public and the firefighters.

Closures through Highway 143 remain closed from the cemetery in Parowan to mile Post 50 outside of Panguitch. Mammoth Creek Road is closed at the junction with Highway 143.  The north side gate of 143/148 is closed.  The Dixie National Forest has expanded its area closure to include Forest lands north of Highway 14.

Route checks can be done along with maps of the closure area at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5253/.

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.

While the cause of the fire is being investigated as human-caused, an unconfirmed report from KSL News stated that the fire was caused by a man burning weeds near his cabin in Brian Head. Dixie Forest Service Public Information Officer Cigi Burton was unavailable to confirm or comment.

The fire began Saturday afternoon, and was reported to have blazed to 50 acres and as law enforcement agencies investigate, by human cause is a possible, but not definite factor in the cause of the fire.

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