PANGUITCH — Some of Utah's Republican elected officials Monday blamed federal land managers and environmental groups for the rapid spread of a Utah wildfire that is currently the nation's largest and has caused an estimated $10 million in damage.
State Rep. Mike Noel told reporters that federal policies and environmental lawsuits have blocked logging in the region, creating fuel for fires as dead trees linger long after they were killed by pests.
"When we turned the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers," the Kanab Republican said, "we turned our history over."
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox also chimed in.
"There's no question that our inability to manage the forests the way they should and could be managed has led to more destruction," he said.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said the statements were misleading, and countered in a prepared statment that climate change, drought, human activity and wind all play roles. The group noted some of the land affected by the fire are controlled by the state.
The blaze has forced the evacuation of 600 homes as it grew exponentially since June 17, torching over 71 square miles near the town of Brian Head. It continues to threaten cabins across the rural, rocky landscape. A torch used to kill weeds started the blaze, authorities have said.
Earlier Monday, a Type I Incident Management Team assumed command of the Brian Head Fire, just in time for a red-flag warning to be issued due to hot weather and expected strong winds.
Because of those predicted afternoon winds, the Upper Bear Valley was added to the list of areas evacuated. Ten other towns remained evacuation order Monday: Panguitch Lake, Horse Valley, Beaver Dam, Castle Valley, Blue Springs, Rainbow Meadows, Mammoth Creek, Dry Lakes, Second Left Hand Canyon and Brian Head. Thirteen homes and eight outbuildings have been destroyed.
The Brian Head Fire has burned 46,000 acres and was just 10 percent contained Monday. Adding to the already tough conditions, fire officials said they did not expect a break in the weather for at least a week. More than 1,400 firefighters were focusing Monday on the eastern portion of the wildfire near the Panguitch Lake area.
Alpine Fire: The 300-acre blaze that began Saturday at the mouth of American Fork Canyon temporarily closed the canyon road. It was sparked by a campfire that got away and was 30 percent contained Monday.
Beaver Canyon Fire: The fire near Strawberry Reservoir burned about 43 acres and was 25 percent contained.
Contributing: Ladd Egan, Nicole Vowell