Chaos on Interstate 15 as wildfire snarls traffic in Utah

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Cottonwood Trail Fire
The view from inside a car trapped in a traffic jam caused by the Cottonwood Trail Fire. Screenshot from video by Griffin Hunt.

A wildfire that spread across Interstate 15 prompted evacuations and caused a massive traffic jam as motorists drove within feet of a rapidly spreading fire nine miles northeast of St George, Utah Sunday.

The Cottonwood Trail Fire started about 3 p.m. on the west side of the Interstate and burned across the four-lane divided highway blackening 3,000 acres before being stopped by firefighters on the ground and in the air. Resources assigned included three large air tankers, four helicopters, and 30 fire engines.

Cottonwood Trail Fire map
Map showing the location of the Cottonwood Trail Fire at 3:18 p.m. MDT July 19, 2020.

Both northbound and southbound lanes were eventually closed temporarily due to the fire, but perhaps a little too late. All evacuations have been lifted. A Type 3 Incident Management Team was slated to assume command of the fire Monday morning.

Videos showed traffic at times stopped or slowed to a crawl as the fire burned intensely near vehicles. Some were abandoned and the passengers rescued by others.

The video below by Griffin Hunt shows the chaos as vehicles inched past flames and became trapped in the traffic jam, with some turning around on Interstate 15. David Hunt posted the video, saying, “We were driving back from a wrestling tournament and got caught by fire. The other group that was with us had to abandon their vehicle and it burned to the ground. Here’s a video my son  took.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.