CEDAR CITY — Firefighters battling a massive blaze in the mountains of Iron County this summer found themselves facing an unexpected obstacle: An underground bunker, caches of weapons and survivalist cabins tucked away on state and federal lands.
Crews were 10 days into fighting the Brian Head Fire when on June 27 sounds of small explosions led them to a burned out cabin and a bunker dug into the ground, Iron County Sheriff's Lt. Del Schlosser reported Thursday.
Inside the bunker was a box of novelty grenades, explosive powder, fuses and ammunition.
The man believed to be responsible for the hideout told police he was preparing for the end of days, Schlosser said.
"He was basically making this or had those for a doomsday, or for the last days on Earth," Schlosser said. "His intentions were to protect the stuff he had spent years gathering. It was a defense against others."
Three days after the discovery, while a team of law enforcement officers and bomb technicians were taken by helicopter to assess and dispose of the improvised explosives at the bunker site, police sought out a Parowan man whom they believed may have been responsible for the structure, according to Schlosser.
Pressed by police, the man revealed the cabin and bunker were his, and they weren't his only stashes.
"The person further told officers he has approximately seven or eight such cabin structures and bunkers hidden throughout the area; and that most are supplied with food storage, firearms and ammunition, and he had built the shelters and storage caches over the course of several years," Schlosser said in a press release.
The man also told police he had purchased the novelty grenades, drilled them out and then re-plugged them, Schlosser said.
"They were old military hand grenades. They were manufactured legally, purchased legally, but our person of interest had taken the bottoms of those and made them so they were somewhat operative," Schlosser said. "It would take some more components to make them work, but he had modified them so that they could work."
Police did not release the man's name Thursday, but said he is cooperating with law enforcement and is not considered dangerous.
Following the interview, an aerial search revealed two additional cabins lost in the fire. Firefighters on the ground also located a burned out cache of ammunition and food storage.
Investigators who hiked to the cabins reported they had concrete footings and included a corrugated metal roof, metal stove and chimney, Schlosser said.
An additional cabin that had escaped the fire was also located on a steep mountainside. Schlosser said the structure was built out of plywood, 2-by-4 beams and cement footings.
"A search of the cabin found it contained two bunk beds, food and water storage, reading material, comfort items and a small amount of ammunition," Schlosser said.
While nothing illegal was located in the various cabins and caches, they were found on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and on land owned and managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, according to Schlosser.
Officers from the sheriff's office and Forest Service cleaned up and removed burned debris from the cabins, emptied and dismantled the bunker, and cleared out other caches located in the area. Helicopters were required to move the large amount of materials out of the remote areas, Schlosser said.2 comments on this story
Once the investigation is complete, the case will be screened by the Iron County Attorney's Office to consider possible charges and restitution for the cleanup costs, Schlosser said.
The Brian Head Fire, reportedly started by a resident using a torch to clear weeds around his cabin, burned 71,000 acres, cost $34 million to fight and will end up costing millions more in rehabilitation.
A Taylorsville man, 61-year-old Robert Ray Lyman, has been charged with reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, and burning without a permit, a class B misdemeanor, in connection with the fire. He has pleaded not guilty.