Crews fighting the Dollar Ridge Fire hope the weather cooperates so they can save homes

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After days of prime fire conditions, crews fighting the Dollar Ridge Fire hope Mother Nature cooperates Thursday as they work to contain the growing blaze and keep it away from homes in the Fruitland area.

A Type I team — the largest and most experienced type of wildfire squad — will take over firefighting operations Thursday, Great Basin Coordination Center spokesman Norm Rooker said. The higher-level team was brought in after the fire jumped Highway 40, which remained closed in both directions near Fruitland as of Thursday morning.

“There’s just so many moving parts,” Rooker said. “You need to have a large enough team of experienced folks.”

(Courtesy of Duchesne County Sheriff's Office) Emergency responders watch as the Dollar Ridge Fire nears Highway 40 near Fruitland on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The fire later crossed the road, forcing crews to close the highway.
(Courtesy of Duchesne County Sheriff’s Office) Emergency responders watch as the Dollar Ridge Fire nears Highway 40 near Fruitland on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The fire later crossed the road, forcing crews to close the highway.

The wildfire has now burned about 42,000 acres of “unbelievably dry” timber, grasses and shrubs in the Uinta Basin, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City, and is considered 4 percent contained. Rooker said barring a rainstorm, crews will be working on the blaze for weeks.

Thursday’s firefighting mission is to keep the blaze away from subdivisions in the area, Rooker said. Workers have built hand -dug and dozer lines near Highway 40, and will try to connect those to existing lines to stop the fire from coming up behind and into residential areas.

“It’s whether Mother Natures cooperates enough to allow those plans to be successful,” Rooker said.

Rooker said that as of Thursday morning, weather conditions seemed to be working in fire crew’s favor, with more cloud cover and slightly higher humidity. Despite that, he said, it’s too early to tell if crews will make any gains on the wildfire into the evening.

If the fire behaves as it has the last several afternoons — bolstered by high winds and dry fuels — crews likely won’t gain much ground.

Many residents in the area are under mandatory evacuation orders. Those whose homes aren’t in imminent danger may be without power. Some smaller Moon Lake Electric Association power lines were damaged or shut down because of the fire, Rooker said.

The company also decided after midnight to de-energize a main transmission line into Strawberry Valley, which includes all homes in the valley, the Daniels Summit Lodge and Strawberry Bay Marina, as the fire approached, according to a post on its Facebook page.

“Please be patient,” the company said, “as we do not have the ability to repair any damages at this time.”

Rooker said it’s unclear how many structures have been damaged or destroyed by the Dollar Ridge Fire. When Gov. Gary Herbert visited Tuesday, he told reporters 20 to 30 structures had been destroyed, but Rooker said no one has been inside the fire area yet to assess the damage.

“The conditions have been so intense that folks have not been able to get in to do the damage assessments: what was lost, what was saved, what was damaged,” Rooker said. “There’s a guess that it may be more than what the governor said, but that’s all it is, a guess.”

Investigators believe the Dollar Ridge Fire was human-caused.

Officials released updated burn-area numbers for another human-caused fire, the Willow Patch Fire east of Richfield, on Thursday.

That wildfire, estimated to have burned 4,788 acres as of Wednesday, has actually burned about 4,583 acres, according to a news release.

Crews working that fire say fire activity is “minimal,” with “isolated torching” of areas within the burn area and “creeping” burning of mahogany trees.

The fire is 60 percent contained and crews are “on track to meet the target of full suppression,” according to the news release.

The West Valley Fire, north of St. George, is now about 20 percent contained, up from 8 percent Wednesday. The fire has burned 11,716 acres, and is also considered human-caused.

2018-07-05 17:47:06

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