10-week-old fire continues to frustrate central Utahns

Published: Saturday, Oct. 2 2010 12:38 a.m. MDT

The lightning-caused Twitchell Canyon fire has been burning in Fishlake National Forest since July 20.

Ken Malgren, Twitchell Canyon Fire Information

BEAVER — In Beaver, the landmark "B" on the hillside east of town is barely visible from Main Street. Smoke has completely filled the valley in recent weeks because of the Twitchell Canyon fire.

The fire has consumed more than 44,000 acres since it was ignited by lightning on July 20. Over the past 10 days, it's doubled in size.

"I have itchy eyes and a little bit of a sore throat," said Beaver County resident Ursula Cartensen. "I have noticed today there have been several senior citizens in their vehicles driving around with masks on."

Tempers are flaring in many communities in south-central Utah from the fire that is burning out of control, and residents say all the smoke is sickening them.

The stink of the smoke is frustrating people, too. Everything inside their homes smells like a campfire, and the local sheriff keeps getting complaints.

"When you breathe this 24 hours a day, day after day, it starts to wear on people," said Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel. "They're tired of it."

"I don't understand it," Noel said. "Let's get the thing put out. People are sick of it."

The U.S. Forest Service initially decided to let the lightning-caused fire burn but is now actively fighting it.

"The decision was primarily to manage it and kind of hold back a little bit because of safety concerns for firefighters," said John Zapell with the U.S. Forest Service.

A national incident team with 579 firefighters is now on the scene and working to extinguish it. Firefighters are dealing with hot and windy weather, which is keeping the fire alive.

"We've had four wind events that have picked up the fire and carried it quite a distance," said Ken Malgren, fire public information officer. "So (with) hot temperatures and low humidity, we've really got great burning conditions."

But local officials remain upset with the Forest Service for not getting involved much sooner.

"They had the resources at the time to put the fire out. They chose not to do that," Noel said. "They've done that in years past, and they chose not to put these fires out. And I think that's their responsibility to do that."

Noel isn't sure any air quality readings have been measured in Beaver, but in his words, everyone knows what they are breathing is terrible for their health.

The effects of the fire have also taken their toll on firefighters. Malgren said two firefighting crews have been sent home with a cold-like respiratory infection known as "camp crud," that is common during fire season.

"There have been 31 injuries to date," he said. "Those are all firefighters. About one-third of those are minor bodily injuries. The rest are sickness."

Malgren said Friday that crews were able to keep the blaze from spreading. They also were able to increase the containment to 35 percent.

e-mail: spenrod@desnews.com

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