Monday, August 31, 2009

Mill Flat Wildfire Now Estimated To Be Five Percent Contained; New Harmony Residents Allowed To Return To Their Homes In Utah

Note: All posts about the Mill Flat fire available HERE, with the most recent post first.

Gail Mayfield's house survives a brush with the wildfire - but just barely. Yep, that's a freaking propane tank in the picture - and thank God it didn't blow. Her neighbors weren't so fortunate - read more of her story in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The worst may finally be over with in New Harmony, Utah. The Deseret News reports late on August 31st, 2009 that the Mill Flats wildfire is now five percent contained, and residents of New Harmony, Utah have been permitted to return to their homes, with the proviso that they be prepared to evacuate once again on an hour's notice. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the evacuation proviso applies to those in New Harmony, Harmony Heights 1&2, Kolob Ranch, Bumblebee and outlying homes. Authorities will notify residents of any evacuations by phone.

The U.S. Forest Service now estimates that 10,382 acres have been burned. Eleven structures have also been consumed, including two homes, a cabin and several barns and sheds. No one was injured, but the fire continues to pose a potential threat to as many as 550 residences. About 650 personnel are working the growing blaze with four helicopters, two bulldozers and 31 fire trucks. Additional report in the St. George Spectrum.

But officials seemed more optimistic than in the past. Rowdy Muir, the incident commander who took over management of the Mill Flat fire, speculates that it could take 10 to 12 days to meet containment goals. So, for the first time, the end may be in sight. But conscious of the landslides occurring near the fire-charred Corner Canyon in Draper earlier this summer, officials are already thinking beyond containment. They fear possible flooding next spring created from loss of vegetation. A request has been directed to the Forest Service for funds to help mitigate flooding. Requested items might include sandbags, square baskets full of rocks to impede stream flow or other recommendations from an agency hydrologists.

Up-to-the-minute information on all of Utah's fires is available on the UtahFireInfo website, a link to which is now posted on my sidebar.

Two of the latest news videos from August 31st about this fire are embedded below. First, a KSL news video:

Video Courtesy of

And next, a KSTU Channel 13 news video embedded below:


The American Red Cross shelter is still available in an LDS chapel located at 80 S. Main St. in Kanarraville, regardless of whether people need the shelter, food, clothing or trauma counseling which can be found there.

Backlash has erupted against the Forest Service over the methodology behind setting "controlled burns" or "prescribed burns". After a visit, Governor Gary Herbert questioned whether the Forest Service had reacted quickly enough to the threat, but then also questioned whether or not the Forest Service had adequate flexibility to react. Comment boards are aflame with anger at the Feds and, to a lesser degree, at environmentalists.

However, one long-time Utah wilderness activist, Dick Carter, who fought to get the Pine Valley Mountain wilderness designated in 1984, defended the practice of controlled burns and the designation of Pine Valley as a protected wilderness. Carter called the governor's comments about wilderness "simple-minded rhetoric" and said Utah's largest fire, the 2007 Milford Flats blaze, occurred in an area which was grazed and had no designated wilderness. "This fire was waiting to happen as well a whole slew of others, whether they are in wilderness or not, because we have been in a deep and prolonged drought and that a significant climatic weather change has occurred," said Carter. "We have shorter winters, especially in the southern part of the state, much longer summers, deep drought conditions, and we continue to have lightning. Those factors will assure us of a major fires."

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