Tackling scars from the Brian Head wildfire

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

BRIAN HEAD–If you happen to visit Brian Head Town and the ski village this winter, you might not notice the burn scars or rehabilitation work. Here, the rustic mountain village with a base elevation of 8,000 ft., which peaks at 11,300 ft., is still pristine under a blanket of snow that surrounds chalet-style resorts, lofty slopes and a sprinkling of small businesses that thrive despite the small, year-round population.

Tourism is their bread and butter.

According to Bret Howser, Brian Head Town Manager, he has seen plenty of mitigation work going on since a major wildfire ignited there last summer. Some federal (Emergency Management) and state funds have been used to prevent soil erosion with extensive re-seeding needed to restore the green space charred by the fire that spread far beyond the town.

While 13 cabin owners were affected, Howser notes that 98 percent of fire damage took place outside city limits.

“The most important thing is that the Brian Head community had very little damage other than some land scar and (trees, wildlife) issues,” said Howser from his office which sits along State Route 143 – a pristine road into ski country. “These areas will need reseeding, and soil work, which will take time, but so far we’ve been pretty pleased with the agencies that have worked on those issues.”

According to Howser, most businesses and cabin owners had adequate private insurance policies to cover personal loss in revenue or structure. That said, there will be some property values affected – in terms of picturesque view and long-term rehabilitation.

According to resident and contractor Clayton Calloway, the mitigation work involves everything from reseeding, using hay bales from crop dusters that can get in and out of mountain wedges, to fly-ins with helicopters. All to get the seeds in the ground, and roots started on the scar areas left behind. The flood potential and debri fields will be ongoing matters.

“The federal and state agencies, Bureau of Land Management, and environmental experts have provided a diagnosis on what needs to happen,” said Calloway. Now it’s up to the investigation and county prosecutors to find out exactly what caused the June wildfire.

“Construction hasn’t seen a direct effect,” said Calloway of his business and that of his wife, Shelly, who operates Apple Annie’s nearby.

Calloway, who set down roots here in 1997, believes that the fire has deterred travel plans for some tourists who thought the popular resort area was affected. “But I’ve already seen a real come back – tourists are curious, but once you get here, you can see that firefighters preserved this really beautiful landscape.”

According to Howser and Calloway, most people have moved past the ordeal.

While Scott Garrett from the Iron County Attorney’s Office is unable to release documents from the U.S. Department of Forestry Investigative report, former Taylorsville High basketball coach Robert Lyman has pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless burning in connection with the wildfire that burned 71,000 acres in Iron and Garfield Counties. Lyman’s three-day jury trial is yet to be scheduled in Iron County. Meanwhile in September one Alpine man, Bryan Burr, lost his life while working on ground stabilization efforts as a crew member — struck by falling debris in a remote site above the Boy Scout camp. Now the goal is to rehabilitate.

“We hope to have another good season here with all of the ski hills in operation and business going,” said Howser, “Let’s you and I cross our fingers on that.”


Caption: Brian Head Town manager, Bret Howser and local resident, contractor Clayton Calloway, are hopeful that the burn scars will be addressed through soil stabilization, and re-seed mitigation efforts, while residents and cabin-owners move past the damage caused by the June wildfire and subsequent loss to wildlife and environment.

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