In early June Tooele County Fire Warden Daniel Walton offered an ominous wildfire forecast for Summer 2019.
After a winter of deep snow followed by a rain-soaked spring, Walton indicated the extra moisture had caused abundant plant growth that could result in a busy wildfire season for Tooele County. If the water works stopped and hot and dry weather hit, a lot of fuel would soon be ready to burn.
But not in the mountains as usual. Instead, the biggest worry for Walton this summer was the wildfire potential on valley floors and along the wildland-urban interface.
“Last year we saw more of a high elevation fire season,” he said. “There was a lot more … potential for large fires in the mountains. This year we’ll have a lot of potential for large fires in the valleys.”
Still, despite all of the extra fuel, big wildfires scorching vast tracts of valley and mountain acreage didn’t occur as feared between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Around 60 acres did burn near Simpson Springs in mid June, followed by 350 acres in mid July at South Rim — but no big inferno that leaves behind endless acres of ash.
Then two weeks ago, just when it looked like the summer might slip by without a major wildfire, the sky over the northern Oquirrh Mountains lit up with flames and filled with high plumes of smoke.
Sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 3, a wildfire, ruled human-caused by fire officials, reportedly began somewhere east of the Saddleback subdivision and the Union Pacific railroad tracks in Lake Point. Driven by plentiful fuel and wind, the fire quickly grew and began to climb the Oquirrh Mountains’ rugged west slopes.
Dubbed the Green Ravine Fire, the blaze didn’t go long without human response. Multiple fire crews worked to contain the fire before it could blow up into a vigorous conflagration, spread deeper and higher into the Oquirrh Mountains, and reach broadcast and communication towers atop Farnsworth Peak.
By the next day, more than 150 personnel were in full fight mode, including hotshot crews, fire crews, engine crews and air support units from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Air support included fire retardant drops from helicopters, airplanes and a jetliner. For a while, the Green Ravine Fire was the largest active wildfire in Utah.
Strategic drops of fire retardant helped contain the blaze while hotshot, fire and engine crews worked the ground. Despite the steep and rugged terrain, the fire was 90% contained after three days and Farnsworth Peak was spared. In all, just more than 2,100 acres burned.
But if it hadn’t been for the quick response by fire crews, and the surgical precision of the aerial retardant attack, the outcome could have been much worse. With so much tinder dry fuel ready to burn, the Green Ravine Fire could have left a lot more bare mountain in its wake.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Sincere gratitude to the fire crews and to all who stopped the Green Ravine Fire. Your work once again showed that wildfires in Tooele County always face a formidable foe on the ground and in the air.