CEDAR CITY – After nearly 16 hours of fighting Hicks Creek Fire near Cedar City, authorities remain concerned that Tuesday’s windy forecast may send the fire out of control and heading toward more homes.
Representatives from the Utah Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Cedar City Fire Department and Iron County were all available Monday night at a public meeting to answer questions regarding the Hicks Creek Fire burning south of Cedar City.
Earlier in the day, authorities estimated the fire to have burned 1,500 acres in Shirts Canyon. However, that number has since changed to 1,033 acres to reflect the exact measurements taken by aircraft, said Cedar City Fire Chief Mike Phillips.
Three homes near Shirts Canyon were evacuated Monday at approximately 4 a.m.
At Monday’s public meeting, officials said the fire, while not contained, is not increasing in size. Officials, however, are concerned the homes in the Cedar Highlands Subdivision located east of Cedar City on Cedar Mountain may also be threatened if the winds pick up Tuesday as forecast.
“The winds are supposed to get up to 40 to 45 miles per hour coming in from the southwest,” said Nick Howell, deputy fire incident commander for the Color Country Interagency Fire Center. “So that’s the primary concern is just the wind. If the wind had been absent from last night it would’ve been a nonissue.”
Authorities stopped short of giving any assurances one way or another, saying they were completely at Mother Nature’s mercy.
Phillips did say that while it’s not probable the fire will spread as far as Cedar Highlands – six miles away – it is still a possibility.
Fire crews are working throughout the night to try and contain the fire but it will take more than a couple of days to fight as the area is exceptionally dry for this time of year.
“It’s just deceptively dry. I didn’t expect this,” Howell said. “We see fires in October but not ones that spread 1,000 acres overnight.”
Approximately 100 people, largely made up of residents from the Cedar Highland area, showed up to Monday’s public meeting. Concerns ranged from how much time homeowners would have if evacuated to possible things they could do themselves to protect their lifetime investment if the fire was close to their properties.
Fire managers from the different agencies discussed the protocol for evacuation, reassuring the residents they would more than likely have about two hours to get some of their stuff and relocate.
Iron County Emergency Management Coordinator John Higley told residents the county, in conjunction with the Red Cross, would have shelters available if necessary and were ready to handle the crisis including taking in animals.
“We do have the ability to take animals – everything from livestock right down to your canaries,” Higley said.
The fire appears to have been started by a controlled burn on private property approximately three weeks ago. The fire is still under investigation but it is possible the private property owner, who carried out the controlled burn, could be criminally indicted and/or charged for the costs of fighting the fire that in just one day Howell said totaled about $30,000.
“Everything is based on negligence and in fires where there has been negligence we do pursue cost recovery,” Howell said. “But it could be both criminal charges and cost recovery.”
A type 3 Incident Management Team is managing the fire for full suppression. Many of the aircraft and resources fighting the fire came from California, Howell said.
Resources from the State of Utah-Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, BLM, U.S. Forest Service, Cedar City Fire Department, and Iron County Sheriff’s Office assisted on scene at the Hicks Creek Fire.
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