Man killed during helicopter mulch operation at Brian Head Fire

Monday, Oct. 9 UPDATE: Officials identified the victim as 58-year-old Bryan Burr, of Alpine, Utah. The Salk Lake Tribune newspaper reported Burr was the brother-in-law of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

We have also learned he was the co-owner and president of a charter helicopter service. Visit to learn more.


Original story: A man was killed Saturday October 7 during Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) operations on the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The 58-year old crew member on the ground from Alpine, Utah was giving directions to a helicopter dropping straw mulch when he was struck on the head. The pilot saw the injured man and contacted others who called 911.

Brian Head Marshall Jeff Morgan was flown to the remote site off State Route 143 about 1:45 p.m. and determined that the man had died.

Brian Head Fire map
Map showing planned BAER treatments on the Brian Head Fire.

A statement from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office read:

It was determined he likely died as a result of blunt force trauma from falling debris during the airdrop.

It was not clear from the statement if the man was hit by straw mulch or debris from a nearby tree as the straw fell.

The identity of the person killed has not been released.

Since an aircraft was involved in the fatality the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the accident.

Map Brian Head Fire Utah
Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

The Brian Head Fire burned over 63,000 acres in late June.  On August 25 BAER teams began dropping 3,200 tons of wheat straw from helicopter nets to cover the soil surface. The additional ground cover increases the germination of seeds dropped earlier and helps absorb raindrop impact lessening water runoff potential.

BAER treatments Brian Head Fire
File photo of a BAER team member on the Brian Head Fire, July 8, 2017. BAER team photo.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Charlie.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighter on the Brian Head Fire

Above: Firefighter on the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. Photo by Kari Greer working with Great Basin Incident Management Team 2.

I saw this photo on the “Utah Fire Info” Facebook page, was impressed by it, and asked them the name of the photographer and if I could use it. They said yes, and it was taken by Kari Greer. “I  should have known”, I replied.

We’re trying to find out the firefighter’s name. If anyone knows, please leave a comment. (UPDATE July 6, 2017: as several people told us in the comments, it is Noah Piepryzca, a senior firefighter on the Bitterroot Hotshots, a Montana crew that was first formed 54 years ago.)

Kari is a very accomplished photographer and is rather famous within the wildland fire community. She has had contracts with the federal land management agencies to take photos at fires and often embeds with crews to get action photos like you rarely see otherwise.

Kari has her own tag at Wildfire Today.

An update on the Brian Head fire in southwest Utah:

  • 67,430 acres;
  • 1,601 personnel, 45 hand crews, 76 engines;
  • 26 structures destroyed;
  • Highway 143 is open;
  • Evacuations are still in effect in a number of communities.

Brian Head Fire slows, but continues to spread to the northeast

The fire has burned over 58,000 acres.

Above: Map of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah. The red line was the perimeter at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 29, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 24 hours earlier.

(Originally published at 12:52 p.m. MDT June 27, 2017)

The spread of the Brian Head Fire in southwest Utah slowed on Wednesday, thanks to weather less conducive to extreme wildfire behavior, but it still continued to grow on the northeast side. In that area there are large expanses with much lighter vegetation (or fuels), possibly due to past fires, but a couple of spot fires east of those locations are in heavier fuels and have expanded during the last two to three days progressing to within six miles of Panguitch.

On Wednesday the fire consumed another 4,117 acres, bringing the total to 58,318 acres.

On Thursday firefighters will be assessing structure protection needs in Walker and Potato Patch as well as continuing efforts in Breezy Pines. Tactical options are being developed on the north side of the fire.

An illegally operated drone flew into the fire area Wednesday, forcing all firefighting aircraft to be grounded for safety reasons. Law enforcement responded and is investigating the incident. Hobbyist drone operators are reminded that “if you fly, we can’t fly.” There is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over the fire area and it is against federal law to fly a drone within the restricted area. This also happened on the Goodwin Fire in Arizona Wednesday, as well as the Lightner Fire in Colorado.

Resources assigned to the fire include 48 hand crews, 82 engines, 14 helicopters, a variable number of air tankers, and 1,729 personnel. The suppression costs to date have totaled $14.9 million.

Evacuations are still in place for several communities.

Brian Head Fire continues to spread to the east

The fire has now burned over 54,000 acres.

Above:  On the map above the red line was the perimeter of the Brian Head Fire at 2:30 a.m. MDT June 28, 2017. The white line was the perimeter about 26 hours earlier.

(Originally published at 10:18 a.m. MDT June 28, 2017)
(Updated at 10:24 a.m. MDT June 28, 2017)

The Brian Head Fire continued to spread to the northeast and east on Tuesday, reaching Indian Hollow, and as of 2:30 a.m. Wednesday had burned 54,202 acres, an increase of over 4,500 acres. At that time it was within 6 miles of Panguitch.

Firefighters have made progress on the spot fires and slopovers on the south and east sides of Highway 143. Those areas showed very little if any growth on Tuesday.

Brian Head Fire Yankee Meadow
An Inciweb photo of the Brian Head Fire described as “Yankee Meadow”.

The additional spread of the fire Tuesday was on the northeast and southwest sides.

The weather will again be a problem for firefighters on Wednesday with a Red Flag Warning being in effect for the area. The forecast calls for wind out of the southwest and west at 13 to 15 mph with gusts up to 22 mph. The temperature should reach 69 degrees with a relative humidity bottoming out at 10 percent. Conditions are expected to moderate on Thursday and Friday.

Brian Head Fire spreads another 4 miles to northeast

The fire has now burned almost 50,000 acres.

(UPDATED at 8:37 p.m. MDT June 27, 2017)
(Originally published at 8 a.m. MDT June 27, 2017)

Map Brian Head Fire
Map of the Brian Head Fire. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:40 p.m. MDT June 27, 2017. The red line was the perimeter at 12:11 a.m. MDT June 27, 2017. Click to enlarge.


Strong southwest winds gusting over 40 mph combined with relative humidity of five percent to push the Brian Head Fire in Utah another four miles to the northeast. Flames rising to 100 feet were reported by firefighters. The big run Monday afternoon added another 6,190 acres to bring the total burned area to 49,626. More fire activity south of Highway 143 resulted in another 200 acres burned east of the 050 Road.

The weather conditions on Tuesday will not be as severe as Monday, but could still result in significant additional spread of the fire while a Red Flag Warning in effect. The forecast for the fire area calls for 73 degrees, relative humidity of 9 percent, and southwest winds of 10 to 17 mph gusting up to 24.

smoke Goodwinda and Brian Head Fires
At 7:37 p.m. MDT a satellite photographed smoke from the Goodwin and Brian Head Fires.

With that forecast in mind, firefighters are looking several miles north of the fire to where the fuels change from old-growth timber to sage and grass, which should result in more successful suppression efforts.

Evacuations are still in effect for many areas and Highway 143 is closed from the cemetery in Parowan to milepost 50 outside of Panguitch. Mammoth Creek Road is closed at the junction with Highway 143. The north side gate of 143/148 is closed. The Dixie National Forest has expanded its area closure to include Forest lands north of Highway 14.

Brian Head Fire was very active Monday afternoon

smoke Brian Head Fire satellite
A satellite captured a photo of smoke created by the Brian Head Fire in Utah at 5:45 p.m. MDT June 26.

The Brian Head Fire east of Cedar City, Utah was influenced by strong winds from the southwest that at times gusted over 40 mph while the relative humidity dipped to five percent.

The intense burning caused a pyrocumulus cloud to develop as the fire and the smoke moved to the northeast. As you can see here, a satellite photographed the smoke plume and it was also detected by radar.

Only judging from the fire intensity shown in these images, I would be surprised if the indirect contingency firelines constructed Sunday by dozers northeast of the fire were able to constrain the blaze as hoped.

smoke radar Brian Head Fire
Radar detected smoke from the Brian Head Fire in Utah at 6:10 p.m. MDT June 26.