PRICE, Utah (AP) — Fire commanders battling six wildfires in Utah say Colorado is taking most of the available fire crews, leaving them short-handed as blazes across the state continue to burn with little containment.
The shortage of crews and air support has left Utah’s fastest-growing fire with only three ground crews, deputy interagency fire commander Cheto Olais said Friday.
The Seeley fire, about 20 miles outside Price, has grown from a few acres to more than 20,000 acres since Tuesday, burning beetle-killed spruce in the heart of the Manti-LaSal National Forest. It has idled two coal mines and threatens several evacuated mountain communities.
Seeley’s fire commanders have requested about 200 additional firefighters but probably will get just up to 20 because of the scarcity of resources, Olais said.
“A lot of assets are going to Colorado,” Olais said in a briefing to Carbon County emergency officials. “We’re trying to justify getting more assets.”
Firefighters worked feverishly to control five other blazes across the state Friday, including one near Delta that has forced the evacuation of several communities. At least seven firefighters have suffered injuries in the various blazes, and one man was found dead in an evacuation area.
Olais said he also was competing for resources with the other Utah wildfires.
“We’re strapped nationally,” he told The Associated Press. “There’s only so many firefighters, and they’re already out in the field.”
Near Delta, the 70-square-mile Clay Springs Fire was threatening about 75 structures Friday and had destroyed one cabin and three outbuildings. Two firefighters injured in that blaze were being treated at a Salt Lake City area hospital, authorities said.
Several communities have been evacuated, but residents of Oak City and Fool Creek were allowed to return to their homes.
Investigators believe the 45,000-acre blaze was human-caused.
The Wood Hollow Fire in Sanpete County had grown to about 70 square miles. It was about 35 percent contained Friday after destroying at least 160 structures, 52 of them primary homes, authorities said. Four firefighters have suffered minor injuries battling that blaze. Officials said they expect full containment by Saturday.
Elsewhere in the state, the New Harmony Fire near St. George that started Wednesday afternoon had grown to nearly 2,000 acres. Authorities said it was about 70 percent contained, but they expected full containment by Friday night. Officials said seven homes and 22 outbuildings have been destroyed but all evacuation orders in the area had been lifted.
The fire was burning about three miles north of Zion National Park.
The Church Camp Fire, burning about 20 miles south of Duchesne, has charred about 5,400 acres and was 10 percent contained Friday. The blaze has destroyed about 18 structures.
Fire spokeswoman Robyn Broyles said the blaze is burning in a “mosaic pattern,” which makes it more difficult to predict and contain.
In the northern part of the state near Vernal, the Pole Creek Fire had consumed about 2,000 acres, mostly burning in remote Ashley National Forest and not threatening structures. It was about 50 contained on Friday.
With no containment on the Seeley fire near Price, officials couldn’t offer any assurances to Roger and Carrie Christensen of Ogden, who raced to pull a trailer from their property about 10 miles ahead of the fire’s front on Friday.
“When we heard about the fire, we freaked,” Carrie Christensen said. “If the fire doesn’t advance, we’re OK. But you can’t predict fire more than the stock market.”
The Christensens own property near the Horizon coal mine, which was forced to shut down operations along with the nearby Skyline mine. Workers at both mines have carted away surface coal piles that could have ignited.
The fire has forced evacuations in Clear Creek, Hiawatha, Wattis and Scofield, including about 100 girls at a camp and a group of Boy Scouts.
The wildfire might have been quickly contained early on, but it overwhelmed a single crew when a helicopter was diverted to the nearby Wood Hollow fire where homes were burning, fire investigator Brandon Jensen said.
“With so many fires out here,” Jensen said, “we can’t get the resources to fight these fires the way we’d like.”
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