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Brian Head Fire Grows To 50,000 Acres

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(Justin Harding/Utah Governor's Office via AP)

This Monday, June 26, 2017, photo provided by the Utah Governor's Office, shows a burnout area between Parowan and Brian Head, during a wildfire tour by Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, in southern Utah. The nation's largest wildfire has forced more than 1,500 people from their homes and cabins in a Southern Utah mountain area home to a ski town and popular fishing lake.

The Brian Head Fire in Southern Utah has now grown to more than 54,000 acres, roughly 78 square miles. That's more than half the size of the city of Las Vegas and three-fourths the size of Reno.

Brian Head is about three hours northeast of Las Vegas. The climate is cooler and the views are incredible. Many Nevadans go there to ski, mountain bike, and hike. Plus, many people from Southern Nevada have vacation homes and condos there.

Las Vegan Tami Belt's family owns a cabin in Mammoth Creek which is near the village of Brian Head. The cabin was built by her grandparents in the 1940s. Several other cabins in the area were built and many are still owned by some of the earliest residents of Las Vegas.

Belt left her family's cabin just a few days before the fire started. 

“There’s nothing of monetary high value up there in the cabin, but there’s generations of memories. If I had any idea I would have taken mementos,” she said.

For now, the wind has shifted and the fire is moving away from her cabin, but the winds could change again.

Randall Roske also has a cabin in the area, (Editor's note: Roske's daughter Caty works for Nevada Public Radio)

His cabin is also safe for now.

Support comes from

“It is for the moment. The winds have taken the fire towards Panguitch Lake. Ironically enough, I have a brother-in-law with has a cabin near Panguitch Lake that is probably threatened,” he said. 

His homeowners' insurance company actually sent private firefighters to his cabin to protect it from the blaze. Access to his cabin is restricted. He would like to visit it but can't. 

Robbie Hartlmaier lives in the Parowan, which is at the base of the mountain. He is the co-owner of Georg's Ski Shop at the Brian Head ski area. His brother was one of the first people to call 911 and report the fire.

“We’ve been displaced here and pulled off the mountain since the beginning of the fire,” he said. 

He said residents have been able to return to their homes with a police escort to get personal items. He said the small community has pulled together and provided housing for those evacuated from the area. 

Hartlmaier credits the fast work of the firefighters for saving much of the town of Brian Head.

“If you stood on the porch of our shop and looked down the valley there is absolutely no burns marks or anything," he said, "The town of Brian Head itself is still beautifully green and lush thanks to some amazing firemen and air tankers that just pummeled the fire on the first day on that southern border and saved hundreds and hundreds of cabins from going up.”

He doesn't think that the fire will impact the ski season, but he believes many of the popular mountain biking trails are "all a complete loss."

Bree Burkitt is covering the fire for the Spectrum. She said there are still homes in the fire's path. Firefighters have saved several homes. Some are surrounded by burned trees and brush, but the structures are completely safe.

Burkitt has covered many wildfires during her time as a reporter, but this fire has been especially difficult, she said.

“To see that area just be destroyed, see the trees be ravaged that were once what made that place so beautiful to so many people,” she said. 

Fire investigators said the fire started when someone used a propane torch to burn weeds, Burkitt said using a weed-burning torch is probably legal but not wise given the dry conditions around the western United States. She talked to the prosecutor in Iron County and that person could be charged with either arson, which is a felony, or reckless burning, which is a misdemeanor, but the fire is still under investigation. 

 

RESOURCES:

Interagency Fire Center

Mammoth Creek Facebook

Duck Creek Facebook

Town of Brian Head Facebook

Guests

Bree Burkitt, reporter, The Spectrum; Rick Woodruff, regional director, American Red Cross; Tami Belt, homeowner; Robbie Hartlmaier, co-owner, Georg's Ski Shop

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