Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Firefighters Make Progress On Both The Mill Flat (10 Percent Contained) And West Scofield Fires (20 Percent Contained) In Utah

Thanks in part to more favorable weather conditions, firefighter are making progress towards containing both the Mill Flat wildfire in southwestern Utah and the West Scofield wildfire in central Utah. Up-to-the-minute information on all of Utah's fires continues to be available on the UtahFireInfo website

According to the St. George Spectrum, the 647 firefighters on the scene of the Mill Flat fire were able to raise the containment level from 5 percent to 10 percent late on Tuesday September 1st, although the fire swelled to encompass 11,180 acres. With slower winds, higher relative humidity, and reduced temperatures, firefighters built upon a containment line along the north and northeast perimeters of the fire, according to Vince Mazzier, a public information officer for the Mill Flat Fire. "We're feeling very confident that the New Harmony town and the surrounding structures are very secure," Mazzier said. But full containment may be as much as 12 days away. An estimated $2 million have been spent on this fire alone already.

Smoke from the local fire, which has been accumulating near the Cedar City area, is also becoming a concern. This issue, along with recommended precautions, is addressed in another Spectrum article.

Utah's Second District Congressman Jim Matheson, in whose district New Harmony lies, was also present to get briefed on containment efforts and to find out if any additional intervention was needed. Matheson said he met with fire officials on Monday to ensure they have received adequate resources to combat the spreading flames. "I want to make sure they have everything they need," Matheson said Tuesday, but fire officials said they have the necessary personnel and equipment to control the blaze. "This is dangerous business and we want to do our best." Matheson then went off to speak at the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Containment progress on what is now officially called the West Schofield wildfire has been faster, not only because the fire was smaller at just 251 acres, but a rainshower helped dampen the blaze. Jason Curry of the state Division of Forestry, Fire and Public Lands said the fire is now 20 percent contained, and crews hope for full containment of the West Scofield wildfire by Thursday. The evacuation order could be lifted as early as Thursday night. No lives or structures were lost in this fire, although it did creep to within 520 feet of a subdivision. A total 180 firefighters were detailed to fight this blaze.

But the common denominator remains - both fires started as controlled or prescribed burns that were allowed to burn for a lengthy period of time. The methodology behind prescribed burns must be re-visited. We cannot guarantee 100 percent safety, but when two controlled burns in one week break their bounds, well, "Houston, we have a PROBLEM", as they said in the movie.

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