Crews battle multiple wildfires burning across southeast Utah
by Lisa J. Church
Staff Writer
Jun 20, 2013 | 5640 views | 0 0 comments | 152 152 recommendations | email to a friend | print
25 Lackey Fire
Air and ground crews work to extinguish several flare-ups as the Lackey Fan Fire near La Sal continues to grow in size on Friday, June 14. Firefighters have been battling the blaze, which was sparked by lightning on the evening of June 13.          Photo by William Perritt
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Firefighters scrambled over the weekend to contain three wildfires in southeast Utah. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Lackey Fan Fire, which is burning approximately three miles northwest of the town of La Sal and 20 miles south of Moab, had charred 904 acres in the La Sal Mountains. A wildfire in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area about 26 miles west of Monticello had burned 350 acres in the Abajo Mountains, and a third wildfire in the Book Cliffs east of Price had consumed almost 200 acres.

All three fires were caused by lightning storms that passed through the area on June 13, said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Officials said 180 wildlands firefighters were battling the Lackey fire. Nine fire engines and three helicopter were also helping fight the blaze. Initial reports last week indicated that the fire posed a threat to several structures in the mountains, but Curry said crews were able to build a more than three-mile perimeter around the fire and as of Wednesday, no structures had been damaged and none were in danger.

As of June 19, the Lackey Fan Fire was 75 percent contained, but Curry said the fire had posed challenges for firefighting crews.

“They’ve had a lot of success but it has been a difficult fire,” Curry said. “It’s tough work. They’re in the sun all day and it’s just very physically demanding.”

He said several firefighters had suffered from dehydration and required medical personnel. Otherwise, no injuries were reported as a result of any of the three southeast Utah fires.

“Staying hydrated has been difficult,” Curry said, adding that dry weather, winds gusting to 40 miles per hour and hot temperatures also complicated the problem.

In Dark Canyon, crews burned areas along Elk Ridge Road yesterday to clean up the burn edge and secure the southeast edge of the fire, Curry said. That fire is 60 percent contained and crews are working to prevent any further spread.

There are not road closures in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, but fire managers are asking that recreationists avoid the area near the fires.

The Lackey Fan Fire had residents of La Sal on high alert as the initial 18-acre blaze grew quickly to almost 200 acres in the first few hours.

“On Friday afternoon the wind picked up and shifted, blowing more from the west and I could actually see flames from my front porch,” said La Sal resident Deborah Hughes on Tuesday evening. “As night fell, the fire moved up the mountain and the whole hill glowed with red embers ... Airplanes with retardant and helicopters carrying buckets of water from a nearby pond are still flying over the mountain today snuffing out new fires that have cropped up mostly along the perimeter of already burned-out areas.

Hughes said she is impressed and grateful to the fire crews for keeping local residents safe.

“I didn’t realize the size and intensity of the undertaking to keep La Sal and Brown’s Hole safe until I went to pick up my mail on Sunday and found fire crews, semi trailers with catering contractors, and camping tents had taken over the field just west of ‘downtown’ La Sal with the school acting as a command center,” she said. “I am deeply appreciative of all the efforts by those who are working tirelessly to bring the fire under control.” 

A red flag warning will be in effect throughout the area through 10 p.m. on June 20, Curry said.

Crews were expecting further progress on both the Lackey and Dark Canyon fires by Thursday, June 20, Curry said.

The Rock Creek fire in the Book Cliffs is expected to be contained by June 20 or June 21, Curry said. That blaze is burning in such difficult terrain that firefighters have not been put on the ground, he said. Helicopter crews have made significant progress in containing and putting out the blaze, he said.

Regional wildfire response plan being developed

Grand County officials are joining with their counterparts in San Juan, Emery, and Carbon counties in working on developing an updated catastrophic wildfire response plan for Utah’s southeast region.

The effort is part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s statewide directive to formulate a comprehensive wildfire response plan for each of six regions throughout the state. 

  “The goal is to have it be more locally driven,” said Grand County Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, a member of the working group charged with developing the plan for Southeastern Utah region. Tubbs said the regional working group has already met once, on May 29. Although no Grand County Council members were in attendance at that first session, Tubbs and others plan to participate in the group’s next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 25, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Grand Center in Moab.

The plan is on the fast track, as Gov. Herbert has asked that it be completed by August. Currently, working group members are using existing data, including maps, to identify resources and issues, develop strategies for coordinating response efforts in the management of wildfires.

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