GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah National Guard helicopters and personnel no longer are headed to Colorado to help fight wildfires this weekend, but they remain ready to mobilize if needed, the governor said late Friday.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office said in a statement that Colorado withdrew its request for the emergency assistance after reassessing its situation.
“Though Utah’s assistance is not currently required by Colorado, today’s efforts demonstrate Utah is ready, willing and able to help our neighbors in need,” Herbert said.
Herbert had announced at a Friday morning news conference that Utah would send the help to Colorado, where two people have died and 400 homes have been destroyed in a wildfire near Colorado Springs. Authorities in Colorado said later Friday that a surprise rain shower helped them tame the wildfire, which was 30 percent contained.
Herbert also used the news conference to urge residents to use caution as Utah enters its fire season. His message came after a series of scattered fires broke out Thursday night in southeast Utah after a dry lightning storm passed through the area.
Fire officials said the blazes are small and crews were working to contain them Friday. But officials said Utah still is at risk for more fires as it enters the peak of its warm, dry season.
“It’s tinder-dry, so just a little misstep by anybody can cause a real devastating fire,” Herbert said.
Drought conditions persist in many parts of the state, and the governor urged people to use common sense.
He reminded campers and hikers to follow fire restrictions and riders of all-terrain vehicle to stay on marked trails. Herbert also encouraged target shooters to use designated ranges and avoid using exploding targets, which sparked a 5,507-acre blaze near Saratoga Springs last June that caused thousands to flee homes and cost $2.1 million to battle.
In 2012, Utah had more than 1,500 fires, about half of which were human-caused, State Forester Dick Buehler said.
“Our conditions are just a little bit better than last year, but not enough to really make a lot of difference,” Buehler said.
The lightning-caused fires burning in eastern Utah on Friday were all relatively small, with no structures threatened, fire officials said.
Sandy Nelson with the Moab Interagency Fire Center said the biggest blaze is the Rock Creek Fire, which on Friday afternoon was burning 110 acres of rugged terrain about 15 miles east of East Carbon.
Air crews were battling the wildfire, including three helicopters and two hotshot crews.
Another wildfire, the Lackey Fan Fire, is burning 20 miles southeast of Moab in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. That fire was only 22 acres Friday afternoon, but it was visible from the nearby U.S. Route 191, Nelson said.
Nelson said smokejumpers also were battling three smaller fires in the nearby Abajo Mountains, but each blaze was under an acre. He had no information about what portion of those fires had been contained.
The state forester said two fires broke out Thursday night near Provo and Saratoga Springs. Both had the potential to threaten homes but were contained fairly quickly.
On Friday, the National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for the southwestern corner of the state, citing strong winds with gusts up to 35 mph and dry conditions.
The warning is in effect until late Saturday.
“It’s going to be a long, hot summer, and looking at the hot, dry and windy conditions, we need to be vigilant and practicing fire safety and using good common sense,” Herbert said.
By Michelle Price, AP Writer (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)