A fire along the Green River near the Utah-Colorado border exploded out of control Sunday night, more than doubling in size from 250 acres to "well over 500."
And the blaze was expected to expand to between 3,000 to 4,000 acres by late Monday."We're in the midst of some madness here this morning," Ashley National Forest spokesman Merle Young said Monday.
The fire, much of it in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, raged out of control, and fire crews were in retreat Sunday night.
"I'd say 4,000 acres is an excellent possibility," said Mike Stubbs, also an information officer with the Ashley National Forest. "And it could go much higher than that if we don't get some help."
The fire prompted National Forest officials to plead for more assistance and equipment, said Stubbs. Officials have requested 10 additional crews of 20 firefighters each, as well as four additional bulldozers, another air tanker and a portable base in Rock Springs, Wyo., for the air tankers to reload with fire retardants.
Elsewhere in the state, fire crews stopped a 38-acre fire in Big Cottonwood Canyon, but just in time to be dispatched to a 25-acre blaze in Echo Canyon.
Utah isn't the only Western state with severe fire problems. A fire ripping through pine forests in Yellowstone National Park doubled in size Monday to more than 2,500 acres, while a 22,650-acre blaze in the Teton Wilderness appeared to be slowing down.
Hot, dry weather helped fan flames over thousands of acres of trees and brush in Washington, Montana, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming, as well as Utah.
Utah tourists and recreationists watched in awe Sunday as air tankers dropped pink-colored retardant on a 250-acre blaze raging out of control near Flaming Gorge.
Triple-digit temperatures and high, erratic winds fueled the blaze that grew from 200 to 250 acres overnight Saturday and then doubled to 500 acres by Sunday afternoon. By Sunday night, officials had lost track of how many acres were burned.
"We've had some wind pick up this afternoon," Young said Sunday. "Between the heat, the erratic winds, the difficulty of getting qualified support personnel - we got a good little fire going."
Investigators suspect fireworks caused the Green River fire, which began about 3 a.m. Saturday in brush in the Ashley National Forest.
"We've got tourists galore out here, and they're getting quite a show," Young said. "We've got people just kicked back with their lawn chairs and pop coolers, watching the fire retardant drops. The kids are just oohing and ahing."
Stubbs said recreationists are not in any danger. However, floaters along the river are asked to stay on the south side of the river, since firefighting efforts have dislodged some boulders. "They're just loving that trip down the river, just watching the fire," Young said.
Seven crews are fighting the fire, while air tankers drop retardant on the flames to prevent any spread too close to the hydroelectric generating plants and lines leading to Vernal and the Bridger Valley.
A total of 300 people are working the fire that is consuming juniper, ponderosa, pinon and shrub, Young said.
"We're having some potential dangers here because of the power plant. If the (power) line gets in the fire, it blows up," she said. The power has bumped off a few times from the smoke.
National Forest officials say it is critical to establish a portable air base in Rock Springs to cut down the turn-around time for the air tankers to about 20 minutes. Currently, it takes 70 minutes for tankers to dump their retardant on the fire and return to Salt Lake City or Grand Junction.
While the Green River blaze is getting top priority, a 20-man fire crew was dispatched Monday to fight a blaze in Echo Canyon that was first reported about 6:45 p.m. Sunday. The cause of that fire is not known.
In Big Cottonwood Canyon, a single firefighter remained at the scene of a 38-acre blaze that began Saturday afternoon behind a popular camping area.
Four 20-man crews built firebreaks around the blaze by 3 p.m. Sunday, and Interagency Fire Center information officer Kathy Pollock said the fire was brought under control about 6 p.m. Crews stayed throughout the night to make certain it didn't flare up again.
As with the fire in eastern Utah, fireworks are believed responsible for the blaze, officials said.
The extreme fire danger prompted state forester Dick Klason and Wasatch/Cache National Forest Supervisor Dale Bosworth to order fire restrictions for all state, private and federal forest lands in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Box Elder counties.
Effective Friday, the restrictions prohibit open fires except in designated campgrounds. Smoking is allowed only in vehicles, boats, paved roads and developed recreation sites.
"The Utah Division of State Lands and Forestry has responded to more than 100 wildfires this year and over half of them were man-caused and preventable," Klason said. "With the weather forecast for the next 30 days continued hot and dry, we are literally pleading with everyone to practice extreme safety with campfires, fireworks and smoking."
Protecting resources in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area "is going to be a very expensive," said Young. "The resources here are very valuable."
Crews were warily watching the skies for signs of predicted thundershowers, which they feared would bring winds that could further fan the flames and lightning that could spark new blazes.
The largest fire, Wyoming's Mink Creek fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest's Teton Wilderness, grew by only 150 acres overnight but crossed the boundary of Yellowstone into a rugged back country area, Dave Steinke, a fire information officer, said Sunday.
The south entrance to Yellowstone, along with the Grant Village hotel and two campgrounds, remained closed Sunday because of other fires in the park, but officials stressed that all major park attractions remained open.
"It's burning in that bug-kill lodgepole (pine trees) that's just dead wood and real dry," said John Quackenbush, a helicopter pilot working on the fire. "It's really cookin'."