Firefighters in Flaming Gorge expected Wednesday to contain the 5-day-old blaze that has scorched 1,800 acres as other wind-whipped fires continued to burn in Yellowstone Park and throughout the West.
"There are about 12 fires burning out there (in Yellowstone) - that makes it the worst fire the park has ever had," Tom Horner, National Park Service spokesman, said late Tuesday.An estimated acres have been charred in the Yellowstone area, Horner said, with more than 1,500 firefighters building firebreaks and trying to beat back flames from engulfing structures.
The fires prompted a visit by Interior Secretary Donald Hodel to survey the park's worst fire season ever.
In Utah, a 100-acre fire Tuesday evening threatened houses and a gas station near Silver Creek Junction about 25 miles east of Salt Lake City before two air tankers diverted from the Flaming Gorge blaze stopped the fire.
And a Tuesday afternoon fire on A Street east of Memory Grove, driven by winds up to 75 mph, caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to two homes and destroyed two vehicles.
About three acres of grass and scrub oak were destroyed in the blaze, reported at 4:19 p.m. The cause of the fire, which started about two-thirds of the way down the slope 100 feet or so above City Creek, is still under investigation.
The fire was out by 5:30 p.m. It did the most damage to a home at 219 Ninth Ave. A car, truck and garage at a house to the south were destroyed in the blaze.
The owner of the Ninth Avenue house, Donna Hunt, said the flames were about 20 feet high as they came over the crest of the hill.
Authorities said the winds in the area moved the flames at a rate of between 50 and 75 mph, and the flames extended in a solid wall for nearly 300 feet behind the homes.
Elsewhere in Utah, crews contained two large grass fires, the 1,000-acre High Creek Canyon fire west of Mount Naomi near the Utah border and the 500-acre Lost Creek fire in Morgan County, according to Kathy Jo Pollock, Forest Service fire information officer.
Two western desert fires that together charred some 4,200 acres about 20 miles west of Tooele have been contained, as has a smaller fire that burned 10 acres on ridge above the left fork of Hobble Creek Canyon outside of Springville. Fire supervisors were not sure Wednesday morning when the fires would be under control.
A 150-acre fire west of Newton, Cache County, was believed to have been started by lightning late Tuesday. Firefighters expected to have the blaze under control by Wednesday afternoon.
Another fire was stopped after racing through 10 acres in First Water Canyon west of Price. Pack animals were used to carry supplies 2 1/2 miles through the rugged country to firefighters. Lightning started a number of small fires in central and southwestern Utah late Tuesday, including eight to 10 observed from the Pine Valley Mountains southwest of Cedar City to the Boulder Mountains in Garfield County. Another burned about 80 acres of grassland about 20 miles southwest of Fillmore. The fire was out Wednesday morning, authorities said.
In St. George, the biggest blaze was in the Damerron Valley about 15 miles north of the city. The 160-acre fire briefly threatened some homes before the wind changed. Firefighters were given a breather Wednesday morning when thunderstorms calmed the blaze, but there still was no estimated time for containment or control.
Firefighters in Flaming Gorge went into the field Wednesday expecting to contain the 1,800-acre fire by 6 p.m.
Lightning strikes in the area Tuesday afternoon probably started a half-dozen new fires that wouldn't flare up enough to be noticed until temperatures started to climb Wednesday, said E. Brian Barber, a law enforcement officer with the Ashley National Forest.
Several high-voltage power lines leading from the generating plant at the dam were knocked out by the fire and will likely remain out of service for several more days. However, no power was lost because power was diverted to other lines, Pollock said.
Firefighters kept flames from spreading into several thousand acres of beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees higher on the ridge. That's good news for now, but it means the prime fuel will still be there the next time a fire starts.
Forest Service officials also had citations prepared Tuesday for two men, David A. Knight, 27, 6161 Don Juan Drive, Bennion; and Todd A. Blundell, 21, 2105 E. 33rd South, Apt. B. They are accused of illegally shooting fireworks officials believe started the fire about 3 a.m. Saturday a short distance downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam.
The violations carry $75 fines, said Jeff Larrieu, a Forest Service law enforcement officer, Barber said.
Both men accused of causing the fire could also be held responsible for the costs of extinguishing the fire, which had reached $700,000 by Tuesday afternoon. Officials estimate the total cost of controlling the fire could reach $2 million by the time the blaze is extinguished.
The fire spreads for several miles along the face of the of the canyon on the south side of the Green River immediately downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam. A dramatic panorama of fire and smoke could be seen from atop the dam where a steady stream of visitors stopped to watch the fire and take pictures.
None of the campgrounds was closed because of the fire, nor was the stretch of river just beneath the dam. Rafters were advised, however, to stay to the left of the river away from the fire along the south bank.
Bureau of Reclamation officials also increased releases from the dam so the water would be high enough for the Forest Service to shuttle fire crews from the firebreaks across the river to the base camp. Rapids made it impossible for the aluminum jet boats to navigate the river when the flows were lower.
Four air tankers and four helicopters dropped water and fire retardant slurry on the fire throughout the day Tuesday while a fleet of 75 ground vehicles, including fire engines, pumper trucks, bulldozers, worked the blaze and moved crews on the ground. Tanker reloading points in Salt Lake City and Grand Junction, Colo., were abandoned when a temporary reloading station was established in Rock Springs, Wyo., which cut the round-trip time for the tankers from more than an hour to about 20 minutes.
About 350 line firefighters and another 300 support personnel representing a number of federal and state land management agencies from seven western states were working the fire Tuesday. Officials estimated the number of crews would be cut to eight Thursday.