Lightning in Skull Valley sparked a wildfire that threatened four communities, destroyed several buildings and consumed enough acres to earn the grim title of biggest wildfire of the year for the entire state.
The Patch Springs Wildfire began as a tiny blaze—just 10 acres—on the western slopes of the Stansbury Mountains on Aug. 10, overshadowed by two somewhat larger siblings closer to Terra. By the time the other fires had been contained, though, Patch Springs had grown overnight to 3,000 acres, greedily fed by low humidity and hot winds.
Four days later, it had gained another 10,000 acres and was growing dangerously close to the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians community, Terra and Willow Springs. Firefighters, primarily from the Bureau of Land Management but assisted by the Terra Volunteer Fire Department, struggled to contain the rapidly growing and moving blaze. Big Hollow, to the north, was also in danger.
On Aug. 15, residents of Willow Springs and Terra were evacuated twice, displaced to the LDS chapel a few miles south on state Route 199. Although the residents of Terra were allowed back into their homes by 10 p.m. on Aug. 16, they had no power—the fire had destroyed Rocky Mountain Power lines and poles—and no water from electric-pumped wells. Johnson’s Pass was closed until that Sunday night.
Things were more grim for the people in Willow Springs. An attempt to backburn near Willow Springs to hold off the advancing flames failed, and at least six habitable buildings and four outbuildings, including the iconic Willow Springs Lodge, were destroyed by the hot and fast fire that melted the windows out of some cars while leaving green grass just feet away.
At its peak, 377 firefighters from across the country, including Kentucky, Delaware, Nevada, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, fought the fire on ground and by air.
Local firefighters came out in droves, too. More than 45 came from Dugway Proving Ground, the Grantsville Volunteer Fire Department, the North Tooele County Fire District, the Rush Valley Fire Department, the Stockton Fire Department, the Tooele Army Depot Fire Department and the Tooele City Fire Department.
Because of the Johnson’s Pass closure during the fire, trucks from every assisting agency besides Dugway had to detour around through either Lookout Pass or Skull Valley.
Community involvement was also high, with many church and community groups donating food, water, Gatorade and other supplies for firefighters.
The fire was finally contained on Aug. 24. Remarkably, no residents or firefighters were injured or killed during the course of the Patch Springs Wildfire. Its final tally of 31,010 acres made it the largest fire in Utah in 2013.