A few bolts of lightening, a tinder-dry mountainside, shifting winds and two remote communities have made for a volatile and dangerous wildfire in Skull Valley.
The Patch Springs Wildfire, one of six currently burning in the state, began Saturday night as one of a few small, lightning-caused fires along the western slopes of the Stansbury Mountains between the Skull Valley Indian Reservation and Terra.
Two others were much closer to Terra, and quickly fought by the Terra Fire Department, said Joanna Wilson of the Bureau of Land Management.
“The volunteer fire department was able to knock that one out really quickly,” she said.
However, the Patch Springs Wildfire, which was smaller and farther away from civilization, soon became a much bigger problem than expected. Wilson said the combination of heat, low humidity, new fuel and a shift in the winds propelled the fire to grow from just 10 acres Saturday to 3,000 by Sunday.
“It was burning brush and grass at the beginning and then it moved into the juniper trees, and once it got into the juniper trees it moved very quickly,” she said.
As of Monday night, an estimated 6,300 acres had been consumed by the flames.
Eight fire engines, two 20-person handcrews, a bulldozer, a helicopter, a watertender, and an air attack that provides a bird’s-eye-view of the fire, compose the defense against the rapidly growing fire. In all, 90 personnel were fighting the blaze as of Monday night, and their efforts had gleaned them 5 percent containment. Another five engines and four 20-person handcrews scheduled to arrive on-scene Tuesday.
The focus is to keep people and homes in Terra and the Indian reservation safe; as of Monday, the fire line was within two miles of each area. Wilson said as of Monday no evacuations had been issued. That mission takes precedence, even as flames crested the Stansbury Mountains Sunday night and started to consume vegetation on the eastern slopes.
“The goal for today is using the bulldozer and the engine and the firefighter personnel to secure the line and to prevent a spread to Terra and the Indian reservation,” she said.
Tumultuous winds Monday night threatened to drive the flames closer to those homes, but firefighters were able to hold the line, and as of Tuesday morning there were still no evacuations in place.
“The winds were very strong last night and really challenged our firefighters, but the fireline they created yesterday to protect our residents held,” said Wilson.
The winds Monday night did, however, spread the fire to the south, though as of Tuesday morning Wilson did not have an estimate of how much acreage was added to the count. Air support was working on trying to dampen the flames on the steepest, roughest areas of the mountain from overhead before winds picked up and grounded the aircrafts, she said. Firefighters were also working hard on the west side to keep the fire from spreading in that direction.