Spotty rainstorms and the efforts of hundreds of firefighters are apparently paying off in firefighting efforts in Utah and surrounding states.
The 109,000-acre Yellowstone fire, meanwhile, is still burning, but firefighters are now attacking new outbreaks.Firefighters contained a 5-day-old blaze near Flaming Gorge on the Green River Wednesday at 6 p.m. and expected full control of the fire by 6 p.m. Thursday.
The fire, which was started by illegal fireworks about 3 a.m. Saturday, had consumed nearly 2,000 acres by Thursday morning in the Ashley National Forest. Intermountain Region Situation Unit Leader Linda Fitch said fire officials were expected to turn primary responsibility for fighting the fire back over to the Forest Service Saturday.
About half of the fire crews were released Thursday, most being reassigned to an arson-caused South Dakota fire that has destroyed 22 buildings and forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people. One 20-man crew was transferred to a 700-acre fire at Hot Springs, 30 miles north of Cedar City.
The Hot Springs fire had also received a little rain Wednesday and was being monitored by a couple of crews through the night, then was to be attacked by 60 firefighters later Thursday, said Forest Service dispatcher Ken Zobell.
Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel took a helicopter tour of the Yellowstone fire Wednesday. "Yellowstone is not in danger," he said Thursday morning on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" program. "We're not going to let Yellowstone be damaged by this," he said.
The National Park Service's 1972 "let it burn" policy has always included a contingent to fight new outbreaks, said Chief Ranger Walt Dabney. Firefighters are now attacking new outbreaks. He and Hodel said the policy callsfor only fighting fires that threaten developed areas or that could spread out of national park boundaries.
"The fact is that Yellowstone has about 3 percent currently burning," Hodel said of the park's 2.2 million acres. "But they've had a sufficient area under their fire management plan that their policy now is to fight new fires that break out." Wildfires also chased hundreds of people from their homes in Idaho, while in Alaska 1,200 firefighters battled wind-fanned blazes that consumed 1.3 million acres, an area larger than Delaware.
Elsewhere in Utah, firefighters Wednesday controlled a 200-acre fire in the Damerron Valley, about 15 miles north of St. George. The fire briefly threatened homes before the wind changed, and thunderstorms helped firefighters extinguish the fire. Complete demobilization of firefighting crews was expected Thursday morning at 10 a.m. A lightning-caused grass fire that started in High Canyon north of Logan Tuesday was contained at 1 a.m. Wednesday after burning about 1,000 acres, according to dispatcher J.R. Davis at the Interagency Fire Center.
Davis said no new fires were reported in the Salt Lake-Tooele county areas between Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Lightning pounded the West Desert Wednesday night, he said, increasing the possibility new fires will be noticed later on Thursday.
The South Dakota blaze was burning out of control in heavy woods within two miles of Rapid City but was 80 percent contained Thursday.
Don Kopp, a fire commander, said Wednesday the blaze was the work of an arsonist. "Whoever's doing it, they could burn down half of the Black Hills if they want."
In Idaho, a temperature inversion kept winds mercifully light as crews worked to keep a 1,700-acre fire away from about 50 homes in the Boise National Forest, 35 miles north of Boise.
"The fire is pretty active and moving to the southeast," said Karen Palmer, Forest Service fire information officer. "We don't have a big handle on how much it's burned because there's so much smoke."