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Front Page » July 2, 2002 » Local News » Fire crews battle blazes
Published 4,313 days ago

Fire crews battle blazes


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


A Sunday fire that started in Price Canyon rapidly took off over the ridge toward Emma Park, sending emergency units from a number of different agencies scrambling to control the blaze.

The fire started about 2 p.m. a few miles up Price Canyon near the railroad tracks. While the blaze remains under investigation, preliminary evidence appears it was started by a passing train.

The dry grass and other foliage on the east side of the canyon quickly ignited and started to burn up and down the canyon on the east side of the tracks and it also climbed up the mountain side fed by a slight wind.

Once the fire reached the top of the cliffs, the blaze started to rage.

Five-foot high sage brush, cedar trees and aspens caught fire quickly and the fire started to head in all directions but particularly down the hill toward the Emma Park area.

While no structures were threatened, grassland that support cattle, corrals, fences as well as power lines were burned.

The initial response was by the Helper and Price fire departments. Both parcels governed by the United States Bureau of Land Management and private property were threatened.

The BLM and U.S. Forest Service quickly sent in crews. At about 3:30 p.m., the BLM took control of the Emma Park side as Helper and Union Pacific fire fighters worked in the canyon along side the federal government personnel.

An aircraft from Grand Junction with fire retardant made one drop in the initial hours of the blaze, but it was recalled because of other fires that were going on in Colorado.

The BLM launched a helicopter with a water bucket under it to fight the blaze on the Emma Park side using water from some of the gas well retention ponds.

Crews also were building fire breaks above Kyune Pass while ranchers were trying to get their cattle out of the way of the fire.

A number of spectators from the local area showed up on Emma Park Road to watch the fire. But the road was later closed and the Utah Highway Patrol was clearing the site because of the danger and because BLM crews were operating in the area.

While the blaze remained on the east side of the Price River near U.S. Highway 6, campers and people using the Price recreation area were evacuated because of fears the fire might jump the river and they could be trapped up on the mountain.

BLM crews were in taking the fight to the eastern front of the fire from the Emma Park Road area Sunday afternoon. This was also the helicopter staging area.

Traffic on U.S. 6 was curtailed for awhile and vehicles were backed up for several miles. The Utah Highway Patrol along with Helper police provided traffic control while fire engines parked along side the road and fire fighters used pumps to pull water out of the river to fight the fire on the other side.

"When we first got here I saw a big buck come down off the hill trying to get away from the fire," said Helper Fire Chief Mike Zamantakis. "It came down and got under a pine tree. Then the fire caught onto the pine tree and it tried to go down river, but the fire was there too. Then I saw it head off toward the north and it went through the smoke and I never saw it again. I'm sure the smoke got it. There wasn't anything we could do to help it."

The BLM actually had 17 "smoke jumpers" parachute into the top of the mountain above the canyon to fight the fire on Sunday. At one point, however, a few of them almost got caught when fire closed in from three sides and they had to run from it to keep from being trapped.

The fire, was just one of six burning in Utah on Sunday evening. Two fires in Utah County on the mountains east of Provo and Springville, it appeared were intentionally set. Another fire near Dutch John in Daggett was actually threatening the small town for a short time.

The fire in the Bookcliffs north of Green River was also still raging. As of Sunday it had burned 40, 750 acres and was only five percent contained. The fire which has morphed into a large fire burning in multiple directions it presently consuming large amounts of resources. As of Sunday 381 personnel and five helicopters were being used to fight the blaze.

As for the Price Canyon fire, Helper's fire department was released at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, but the BLM was continuing to fight the fire. By that time it had burned up Sulphur Canyon, and was well on it's way through Emma Park. Also at that it was reported that 3000 acres had been consumed.

Bans on fireworks and open fires had been proclaimed throughout Emery and Carbon Counties in May. The Manti-LaSal National Forest followed up with restrictions a few weeks later.

With things getting drier and drier, total land closures are possible and in fact have already happened. Saturday, the State of Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands along with the Trust Lands Administration closed all lands within the Book Cliffs to public access. These closures are due to the fires presently burning in that area. These closures are largely for the safety of both the public and the fire fighters in the areas where fires are raging.

As for Carbon County, fire officials are avoiding an outright ban on fireworks, but are asking the public to be extremely careful.

"I am strongly urging the public to avoid the use of fireworks over the holiday, but there is no ban on the legal ones," said Zamantakis concerning the city of Helper on Monday. "We just need people to be extremely careful with any kind of fire."

Mayor Joe Bonacci also asked that citizens in Helper refrain from using fireworks if possible.

"I know some people have bought them already, but we have a very bad situation," he said. "I am just asking everyone to be reasonable."

Kent Boyack, the Fire Chief in Price also urged citizens to be careful in their use of fireworks.

"We're just hoping people will be careful," he stated.

These comments came not only after the Price Canyon fire, but a fire in Martin (north Helper) on Saturday that was started by an electrical transformer malfunctioning and lighting a grass fire. The Helper Fire Department responded and put it out, but a few hours later it started up again when the wind started to blow and it raced toward some houses.

"That fire, with the wind was moving so fast a person almost couldn't out run it," said Zamantakis. "We almost ended up with a house on fire because of that."

On Monday afternoon BLM crews along with some other agencies were still watching and working on hot spots. The helicopter that had served on the Emma Park side of the fire on Sunday was working Price Canyon by scooping water up near the water treatment plant near Castle Gate.

It could be days before the fire is totally out and officials are asking that motorists traveling through the canyon not stop to look at the activities there. A number of near close calls with people stopping have occurred and another emergency situation is the last thing local crews need to deal with.


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