Public meeting held to discuss status of Hicks Creek Fire

CEDAR CITY — The Hicks Creek Fire, which was nearly 60 percent contained as of Friday morning, flared up in the afternoon as the winds increased causing it to start burning again out of control.

Warnings of possible evacuations that were lifted 24 hours earlier when authorities announced the fire was 54 percent contained were once again raised Friday night during a public meeting held for Cedar Highland residents, who live approximately 3-4 miles from the fire.

If evacuations are ordered, residents will have approximately two hours to prepare.

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower counseled residents at the meeting to be prepared in case they are forced to leave their homes.

“If it gets to that point – and we hope that it doesn’t – but if it does, you’re going to have a two-hour limit to gather up and leave,” Gower said. “Have a plan in place, have everything down on how you want it go and then the evacuation route is down the mountain and through right-hand canyon.”

He also assured the homeowners his office is set up and ready to take action at a moment’s notice to help them evacuate the area.

Fire Management Officer Mike Melton also cautioned residents they are responsible in part to protect their own homes by clearing the vegetation around it.

You have a responsibility to give us a safe environment to work in,” Melton said. “This fire on July 15 from a lightning strike in the same conditions and the same location, I will almost guarantee you we would be fighting fire in Cedar Highlands trying to catch it at Highway 14. That’s reality.”

Fire crews were working near where the flames flared up trying to get the area prepped to do a back burn Friday when the winds stopped everything. Everyone was then pulled off the line in an effort to reassess the situation and determine how to move forward, said Nick Howell, deputy incident commander for Color Country Interagency.

Initially, it was thought fire crews could stop the flare-up by back burning down below it, in order to meet the fire in the middle and create a fire line that would prevent from spreading. The fire jumped, however, making it impossible for crews to stop it.

The fire also blazed through the aspen trees on the mountain, Howell said, something fire managers weren’t expecting. Howell said:

To have a fire burn through aspens like that – that’s not typical. Usually fire does not burn aspen, and on top of that, there’s grass below the aspen stems that is chalk full of wet dead leaves. It burned faster through the aspen stems than it did the other areas. We thought it was going to stop or at least slow down when it got to the aspens, but it didn’t. It just burned right through it. We couldn’t believe it.

Fire crews were relocated to the northeast side of where the fire is burning currently to try and find ways to move in closer.

However, the area of the fire is too difficult and too hot for crews to move in close, said Jason Curry, public information officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. Air tankers are working overhead to try and slow the flames from spreading.

There is also a bulldozer on scene pushing dirt to create a fire line meant to prevent the fire from spreading.

Authorities do not yet have the exact numbers on how much area has burned and how far the fire has spread, Curry said.

While the fire is a lot bigger than it was the first day, Gower told Cedar City News, it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks, and with the two air tankers expected to be on scene tomorrow, crews should be able to contain it. Gower said:

This fire looks worse than it really is. I’ve been briefed on the status and feel absolutely confident fire crews will be able to control this fire and prevent any further property damage. But if it does spread to Cedar Highlands, we will be ready to act. There are not going to be any incidents or injuries under my direction. It will go smooth, and we will get them out of them in an orderly and safe fashion.

But with crews at the mercy of Mother Nature, fire managers remain a little concerned the weather may not cooperate Saturday, as winds up to 20-25 mph are forecasted with gusts of 30 mph, Curry said.

Authorities, however, did want to avoid any type of panic, saying they believe with the air tankers, 300 boots on the ground and the dozer working through the night to build the fire line, they will get it under control.

A Type 3 Incident Management Team is managing the fire for full suppression. Many of the aircraft and resources being used to fight the fire – including the Hot Shots – came from California.

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.

Currently Highway 91 is currently open to traffic. However, authorities are asking the public to remain away from the scene to allow fire trucks and equipment to get through without issues.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @Tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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