Weather slows fire activity in Western United States

Above: Accumulated precipitation over the last seven days, June 12-18, 2018. 

Moderating weather over the last seven days has helped firefighters make progress on some of the fires in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah. Today’s national Situation Report showed little or no increase in the size of wildfires in those four states. The 416 Fire in southwest Colorado and the Badger Creek Fire in southern Wyoming released a total of 345 personnel over the last 24 hours.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team is currently assigned to the 416 Fire, but Joe Reinarz’s NIMO team has been mobilized for the fire, which could be an indication that they expect it to be a long term incident. The west side of the fire has spread into steep, remote terrain above 8,000 feet as it grows closer to an 11,000 to 12,000-foot ridge five miles away. Much of the ridge is above the timber line and may eventually, with patience over time, serve as a barrier. Mr. Reinarz’s team team will transition on Friday.

Below, National Weather Service graphics show the observed precipitation and the departure from normal for the last 30 and 90 days.

precipitation 30 days
Accumulated precipitation, May 20 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 30 days
Precipitation departure from average, May 20 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 90 days
Accumulated precipitation March 21 through June 18, 2018. NWS.
precipitation 90 days
Precipitation departure from average, March 21 through June 18, 2018. NWS.

More moderate weather affects Trail Mountain Fire in Utah

Above:  The Redding Hotshots conduct a safety briefing before beginning their assignment on the Trail Mountain Fire. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Below is information about the Trail Mountain Fire in central Utah, provided by the Incident Management Team Saturday morning, June 16, 2018.


“[Friday], at approximately 12:00 p.m., Emery County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Highway Patrol closed Highway 31 through Huntington Canyon but it remained open up to Bear Creek Canyon. Increased fire activity had created thick smoke and poor visibility on the highway. Additionally, firefighters and equipment were working directly along the highway. Despite this increased fire activity, evacuations were lifted for the Trail Canyon community. Highway 31 will be constantly monitored today and reopened as soon as conditions allow.

“Firefighters contained a large portion of the fire perimeter Friday on the southern portion near Trail Mountain and Whetstone Creek. The overall percentage of containment does not reflect this containment yet due to fire growth of about 3,000 acres yesterday into Little Bear Canyon and up Mill Fork Canyon. The fire also reached the ridge just south of Crandall Canyon. Firefighters thinned vegetation and installed sprinkler systems around the Crandall Canyon Mine Memorial and adjacent areas.

“Saturday’s cloudy weather, cooler temperatures, and higher relative humidity should reduce fire activity but will have little effect on the dead and dry vegetation that has allowed the fire spread. Possible thunderstorms could bring gusty winds that would also help the fire spread.”

Extreme weather expected on Trail Mountain Fire Thursday

It began as a prescribed fire that escaped on June 6 in central Utah

Above: A pyrocumulus cloud forms over the Trail Mountain Fire, as seen from Joes Valley Reservoir June 13, 2018. Inciweb photo.

At 9:31 a.m. on Thursday the relative humidity at the Mill Fork Canyon weather station near the Trail Mountain Fire in Utah had already dropped to 12 percent and will likely get even lower with the predicted Red Flag Warning conditions. During the night it never got above 30 percent. A mapping flight Wednesday evening showed that the fire had burned 9,554 acres.

The forecast for Thursday calls for sustained 23 mph winds out of the southwest and west with gusts up to 38 mph. The Haines Index will max out at 6, an indication of atmospheric instability which can be conducive to rapid fire growth.  On Friday the wind should increase with 22 to 29 mph southwest winds gusting above 40 mph under cloudy skies but there will be a 33 percent chance of showers.

In an update Thursday morning the incident management team said, “It is likely the fire will continue to spread north along Highway 31, where timber is denser.”

map Trail Mountain Fire
Map of the Trail Mountain Fire at 11:36 p.m. MDT June 13, 2018.

Highway 31 is closed as firefighters work to keep the fire from crossing the road. An evacuation order is in effect.

The origin of the Trail Mountain Fire was a prescribed fire that escaped control on the Manti-La Sal National Forest northwest of Huntington, Utah on June 6.

Trail Mountain Fire
Trail Mountain Fire. Photo by Bonneville Hotshots.

Brush fire destroys homes in Moab, Utah

The Pack Creek Fire burned approximately eight residences Tuesday

A fast moving vegetation fire spread from a wooded area into a Moab neighborhood at about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Soon after it started west of the Cinema Court apartment complex law enforcement officers began evacuating residents in the path of the fire as firefighters began suppression efforts. Late Tuesday night the Police Department reported that a preliminary survey indicates that eight homes, one garage, and two parking canopies were destroyed.

Five firefighters and a small number of civilians were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion.

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation into the cause of the fire with assistance from other agencies.

Prescribed fire escapes in Manti-La Sal National Forest

The Trail Mountain Fire has burned 2,637 acres in central Utah

Above: Map showing heat on the Trail Mountain Fire detected by a satellite at 2:18 a.m. MDT June 12, 2018.

A prescribed fire ignited in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in central Utah has burned 2,637 acres eight miles northwest of Huntington.

U.S. Forest Service personnel began the project on Tuesday June 5 after conducting a test burn the day before. When they had to suppress a seven-acre spot fire on Wednesday they stopped igniting the prescribed fire, but that evening the fire ran to the top of East Mountain. It is now known as the Trail Mountain Fire.

Trail Mountain Fire
Trail Mountain Fire, posted to InciWeb around June 8, 2018.

On Thursday a Red Flag Warning for strong wind was in effect and the fire continued to grow until it stopped temporarily at a high voltage power line. At that time a Fire Weather Watch predicted elevated fire danger on Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10.

red flag warning trail mountain escaped prescribed fire
Red Flag Warning in central Utah June 7, 2018. Screenshot from Salt Lake City Fox 13.

The fire was very active on Sunday, lofting burning embers that started spot fires a mile ahead. At least one cabin and some outbuildings have burned.

fire danger June 7, 2018

Below is information released by fire officials on Monday June 11:

The Trail Mountain Fire moved into Meetinghouse Canyon Sunday after it was hit with wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour. Winds grounded all air support and caused the fire to run north and east. Currently at 2,637 acres, and 10% containment, the fire has created heavy smoke that has been visible from local communities in Emery, Carbon and Sanpete counties.
The fire is burning in mixed conifer, with large amounts of dead and down timber. It is spotting up to a mile, leaving islands of green aspen and sage untouched. A cabin was burned in the Whetstone Creek area and other outbuildings in that area are threatened. A high voltage line is in the path of the fire, but has not sustained significant damage. The powerline remains off.

There are 259 personnel assigned to the fire, five helicopters and 11 engines. There is Temporary Flight Restriction over the fire. No drones are allowed on the fire.

Tim Roide’s Type 2 Incident Management Team will be assuming command of the fire, taking over from a Type 3 Team.

The Emery County Progress has an excellent article about the fire written by Patsy Stoddard. It is one of the best I have seen about a wildfire — very thorough and detailed.

Smoke blowing into Colorado from the fire is visible from space.

trail mountain fire badger creek 416
Satellite photo at 6:42 p.m. MDT June 11, 2018, showing the Trail Mountain Fire, Badger Creek Fire, and the 416 Fire.

South Monroe prescribed fire

These photos were taken yesterday at the South Monroe Mountain Aspen Prescribed Fire on the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah.

Here is the official Forest Service description of the project:

“The purpose of this prescribed fire project is to restore aspen ecosystems on Monroe Mountain by reintroducing fire to the aspen ecosystems through prescribed burning to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations thus reducing the risk to life, property and natural resources, while promoting aspen regeneration. Prescribed fire treatments will be implemented utilizing aerial and/or hand ignition techniques targeting spruce/mixed conifer and seral aspen with mosaic burn patterns and mixed burn severities as an objective. Prescribed fire will occur when 60 percent of the area will be expected to burn leaving 40 percent of the area unburned. The prescribed fire plan also includes burning of slash piled activity fuels.”

The photos were provided by Utah Fire Information.

South Monroe prescribed fire
South Monroe prescribed fire, Fish Lake National Forest, Utah, November 12, 2017. Photo provided by @UtahWildfire.