Brian Head fire grows; zero containment; FEMA approves funding

This is a developing report and will be updated as new information becomes available. Bookmark and refresh this page for updates. 

  • Updated 8:28 p.m. – “Road, trail closures” are updated with specific trail closures.
  • Updated 5:07 p.m. – Sections on “Conditions,” Structures threatened, lost” (increases) and “Resources” are updated per interview with Alternate Governor’s Authorized Representative Brett Ostler.
  • Updated 4 p.m. – FEMA authorizes funding assistance; see “Resources” section of this report.
  • Updated 3 p.m. – Information included under subheadings “Conditions” and “Cause” in this report are updated.
  • Updated 12:02 p.m. – Sunday video added
  • Updated 11:30 a.m. – General locations of homes currently safe added; information on scout camp added; sources Gower and Burton.
  • Updated 11:15 a.m. – New photos added.
  • Updated 11 a.m. – Information from Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower added, particularly to “Watershed” section of this report.
  • Updated 9:45 a.m. – Brian Head allows residents and the like limited access for emergency purposes only. See second paragraph.

BRIAN HEAD –  The Brian Head fire first reported midday Saturday has grown to 957 acres in size, according to a GPS flight estimation Saturday night; no new size estimates have been made as of 4 p.m. Sunday.

Town evacuation orders, road closures remain in place and trail closures are expected Sunday.

Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency approved Utah’s request, made at 1:44 p.m., for funding assistance towards costs of managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.

Brian Head fire continues to burn around the town and homes Sunday morning. Iron County, Utah June 18, 2017 | Photo by Scott Young, St. George News

“Fire crews did an amazing job on structure protection yesterday,” Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower told St. George News in a midmorning text, “very commendable work on the ground and from the air, true heroes!”

Conditions

The fire made slow movement through the night, Forest Service Public Information Officer Cigi Burton told St. George News Sunday morning. Minimal winds of 5-10 mph, becoming more northwest winds in the afternoon, are expected Sunday with near record-breaking temperatures.

Wind and heat concerns have been mitigated Sunday as the area has not seen high winds or the blistering temperatures expected. At 3 p.m., Burton said fire growth potential is rated a 4 on a scale of 2-6 on the Haines Index, indicating low potential for fire growth.

Fire managers utilize the Wildland Fire Assessment System’s Haines Index to appraise potential for wildfire growth by measuring the stability and dryness of the air over a fire. The index is described by the WFAS as follows:

It is calculated by combining the stability and moisture content of the lower atmosphere into a number that correlates well with large fire growth. The stability term is determined by the temperature difference between two atmospheric layers; the moisture term is determined by the temperature and dew point difference. This index has been shown to be correlated with large fire growth on initiating and existing fires where surface winds do not dominate fire behavior.

Brett Ostler, the alternate governor’s authorized representative, noted the Haines Index spot rating by the National Weather Service has increased to 5 Sunday with a rating of 6 for Monday.

“We’re going to get temps in the upper 80s and mid-90s,” Ostler said looking forward. “If they’re forecasted correctly, we stand to hold pretty good ground on this thing through the week.”

He noted thunderstorms with lightning are also in the forecast, which could affect the effort.

“It’s all wind driven, it’s dependent on Mother Nature,” he said. “We have to play by her rules.”

The size of the fire estimated at 957 acres Saturday is now over 1,000 acres, based on flyover observations by state officials Sunday. New GPS mapping is scheduled for Sunday night. There is still zero containment, Ostler said.

No injuries have been reported as of Sunday evening.

Watch video top of this report.

Evacuations, access

Some 750 residents and visitors were evacuated from the resort town Saturday and evacuation orders remain in place Sunday.

At 9 a.m. Brian Head Town posted the following on its Facebook page:

Brian Head Marshals will escort people back into town FOR EMERGENCY PURPOSES ONLY (that means to retrieve medication and this sort of thing, not to retrieve personal items or to evaluate damage). You can call dispatch for details at 435-677-2043 or you can go to the roadblocks at the mouth of Parowan Canyon or at the intersection of Hwy 143 and Hwy 148 near Cedar Breaks Monument. Again, anybody that doesn’t have a significant emergency need will be turned away. Depending on fire activity as the day progresses, these escorts may be discontinued. Thank you.

Nearby Thunder Ridge Scout Camp was evacuated as well, Saturday. The camp is not threatened at this time, Burton told St. George News Sunday morning, as the fire is 2 miles to the south of the camp.

Brian Head fire continues to burn around the town and homes Sunday morning. Iron County, Utah June 18, 2017 | Photo by Scott Young, St. George News

Structures threatened, lost

One home is confirmed destroyed and four homes damaged, Ostler told St. George News Sunday afternoon, an increase in confirmed damages reported Sunday morning.

“We still have not been able to get in and verify everything yet,” Ostler said. “One confirmed burned down, four damaged, but we haven’t been able to get in to everything because of the heat on the line.” 

The town’s Facebook page Sunday around 6:50 a.m. posted: “Crews have been fighting to get control of the fire through the night. … There will be a lot of assessment going on today and further details to follow. Still only one confirmed house lost.”

Although he could not yet identify the exact location of the home that was destroyed, Gower said the fire pushed through the northeast side of Brian Head.

“All homes/cabins on the west side of highway 143 are safe to this point,” Gower said in his text message.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Ostler said everything on the west side of Highway 143 is still OK, despite “a few spots that spotted over” that firefighters were able to address.

“We still have a threat on everything east of it.”

Road, trail closures

Highway 143 remains closed from Second Left Hand Canyon to the junction of Highway 148 near Cedar Breaks National Monument. Closures will remain in effect Sunday. 

Forest Service trail closures include Marathon Trail 3224 from Forest Road 048 (Sidney Valley), Sidney Peaks Trail 3210, Mace’s Run Trail 3219, Dark Hollow Trail 3232, Hendricks Lake Trail 3249 and Forest Road 047 (Brian Head Peak Road)

“Our trails stem from clear up at Brian Head peak,” Burton said. “We have thousands of miles of trails and we don’t have personnel to block all of them. We are recommending people stay away from trails in the area.”

Cause

The Brian Head fire has been determined to be human-caused, with ongoing investigation.

“Our law enforcement officers are the ones who take care of that,” Burton said of the ongoing investigation. “Sometimes it’s sensitive information where not all information has been developed.” 

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Burton said incident management is still not elaborating on the particulars of the human cause as the investigation is ongoing.

Watershed

The Parowan Valley Watershed also remains threatened by the fire.

“The fire burned up through an area that holds snow pack each year that eventually ends up providing water for Parowan,” the sheriff said in his text conversation with St. George News, adding,  “… now that the fire has burned that up, the snow melt will run off instead of soaking into the ground.”

Brian Head fire continues to burn around the town and homes Sunday morning. Iron County, Utah June 18, 2017 | Photo by Scott Young, St. George News

Resources

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency Sunday authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Brian Head Fire.

The state’s request was made by Ostler, representing the governor, Sunday at 1:44 p.m.

The agency’s Region VIII Acting Administrator Nancy Dragani then approved a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant for the state.

“At the time of the request,” the FEMA news release states, “75 homes and 25 businesses were immediately threatened. The fire was also threatening infrastructure, including 1,500 buildings, and four watersheds in the area.”

The FEMA grant avails funding for 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs for management, mitigation and control of designated fires. It expressly does not provide assistance to individual home or business owners.

At last count Saturday, there were 115 personnel on the fire.

“I believe we had some Type 1 Hot Shot crews come in last night,” Burton said.

The fire is being managed by a Color Country Type 3 Incident Management Team. A Great Basin Type 2 team was expected to take over fire management Sunday afternoon; that transition is now scheduled to take place at 6 a.m. Monday, Burton told St. George News at 3 p.m.

Incident management types depend upon four things: complexity level, resources required, risks associated with and duration of a fire. As these conditions increase, incident management types elevate from Type 5 to Type 1.

For example, Burton told St. George News during early June fires in Dixie National Forest, a Type 5 incident management might involve a local fire engine responding to a tree on fire; a Type 4 incident might involve a couple local engines, a hand crew and the like at the forefront of a fire; a Type 3 incident in Southern Utah’s Color Country region still involves local management but is more complex; Types 2 and 1 typically involve more complex management and resources from beyond the immediate region.

The red circle on the map shows the air-space the FAA has closed off the air trafic in order to provide a safe zone for planes being used to fight the Brian Head Fire in Iron County, that started June 17, 2017. | Map courtesy of the FAA, St. George News

Drone and aircraft restrictions over the fire zone

No illegal drone activity has been reported around the Brian Head fire thus far, Burton said.

When “there is open communication, we know where they are and we’re not fearful for our pilots and firefighter lives.”

For example: A KSL news helicopter was permitted to fly over the fire area Saturday.

“They went through the process and got accepted into the TFR – and sometimes they keep them just slightly above the Temporary Flight Restriction,” Burton said.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued its Temporary Flight Restriction order Saturday which remains in effect through Oct. 31 or as earlier rescinded. The restriction aims at maintaining “a safe environment for fire fighting.”

One problem with unmanned or unpermitted aircraft is that fire managers have no means of communication with them. Operating unmanned aircraft, drones and such, in no-fly zones not only endangers firefighters and firefighting aircraft but can result in fire managers temporarily suspending aerial firefighting operations.

“Anytime there’s rotors in the air it’s terrifying,” Burton said

Violating the no-fly zone restrictions is illegal. Among other things, Utah law allows a range of fines up to $15,000 with terms of imprisonment for convicted offenders.

Read the law: Utah Code Section 65A-3-2.5 regarding wildland fire and unmanned aircraft

Read and see more from Saturday: News LIVE: Brian Head fire (with videos and photos)

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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10 Comments

  • Bender June 18, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Joyce, many in the SoUtah area will be interested in a report on the status of Thunder Ridge Scout Camp, just a few miles away from Brian Head.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic June 18, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Got that answered for you, Bender. It’s in the most recent update.
      Joyce
      EIC

  • Happy Day June 18, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Thank you for article and all the information you provided.

  • comments June 18, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I got a feeling we gonna have lots of problems with fires this year unless july brings in a good deal of moisture.

    • Real Life June 18, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Weather and hillbillies not being total idiots (good luck with that). Hope whoever caused this one is proud of themselves.

  • utahdiablo June 18, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Hey here’s a idea, but it may be a real reach…….STOP SELLING FIREWORKS and OUTLAW the damn things here in the dry southwest….but no, we got to make a buck

    • UtahPatriot June 19, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Look at who sells them and you’ll see why they aren’t outlawed. Just sayin . . .

  • mesaman June 18, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    There is no way possible for a written news article to describe or perhaps enlighten the reader to compare it to the photography made possible by St George News. You should be congratulated, thanked, and lauded for your efforts. You have given life to this most destructive and insidious tragedy and I praise you for it..

  • paul June 19, 2017 at 5:31 am

    Hats off to all those fire fighters Who having to deal with this fire and as hot as it has been you guys rock great job

  • UtahPatriot June 19, 2017 at 7:31 am

    I always wondered why all that dead standing timber was not cleared out. I’m sure it has something to do with some ridiculous rule set forth by some eco-Nazi organization to protect a non-existent insect or a bird that doesn’t live anywhere near there.

    The trees are allowed to be destroyed by a beetle because spraying to kill them might harm some newt or fungus, right?

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