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Wildfires in Silver King and Deer Springs continue to destroy Forest Service and national monument lands in southern Utah

St. George • Dozens of firefighters in southern Utah are still battling to bring two large fires under control, braving intense heat, strong winds and difficult terrain.

About 350 firefighters on the ground and a small fleet of tanker trucks and helicopters in the air continued their fight to extinguish the Silver King Fire. The fire was sparked by a lightning strike on July 5, spread from 10,800 acres on Monday to 11,290 acres on Tuesday and is zero percent contained.

Forestry service blocks public access

The spread of the fire prompted Fishlake National Forest authorities to close a large area to the public. The closure, which will remain in effect until Aug. 30 unless lifted, extends from Interstate 70 and the Castle Rock Campground south to Tenmile Creek and from Mount Baldy and the Fish Creek drainage area east to just outside Marysvale.

(Marysvale Fire Department via Facebook) The Silver King Fire near Marysvale, Utah, had reportedly reached nearly 700 acres by Saturday morning.

While firefighters have not yet brought the fire under control, they have made some progress in stopping the Silver King from spreading toward Marysvale and nearby Upper Bullion Canyon, where some homeowners were evacuated over the weekend.

One of the evacuees was Marysvale Fire Chief Jon Christensen, who recalled his conversation with his five-year-old granddaughter as they prepared to flee his home in Bullion Canyon as the flames of the fire drew closer.

“The worst moment of all this,” Christensen recalls, “was when … she put her arms around my leg, hugged me and said, ‘Baba, you’re the fire chief. Why can’t you put out the fire?’ I’ve never felt so helpless in my entire life.”

Christensen’s family still lives elsewhere, but the fire chief said he returned to the home Monday night to make sure it was safe from hot ash and other fire hazards. So far, fire officials say, there have been no deaths or injuries from the fire and only one building, an outbuilding in a remote area, has been destroyed.

Firefighters on the northwest side of the fire area worked most of Tuesday in hot, dry weather and wind gusts of up to 30 mph to create a firebreak to protect the historic Silver King Mine, a gold mine that operated until the 1890s. South of Bullion Creek, crews struggled to keep flames under control on the eastern edge of the fire and ensure equipment was in place to protect buildings in historic Miner’s Park.

Overhead, three large Type 1 helicopters, which can carry 2,700 gallons of water, and a smaller Type 3 helicopter, which can carry 180 gallons, battled the flames from the air. Tuesday’s airstrike also involved two amphibious “scooper” aircraft, which scoop water into an onboard tank to drop on the wildfires, and a drone.

More help continues to arrive.

“A lot (of additional firefighters) have arrived and are reporting in,” said Kevin Abel, spokesman for Great Basin Incident Management Team 2, which is fighting the fire.

In another positive development, Rocky Mountain Power has restored power that was temporarily out across much of Bullion Canyon as the fire threatened homes and power lines in the area. So far, power has been restored to about 60 homes and could soon be restored to another 15 homes if conditions improve.

“We have not yet received approval from the fire department for our crews to investigate the conditions there and determine whether service can be restored to customers,” said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman David Eskelsen. “We must wait for that approval and then we can make the necessary repairs.”

Despite the progress the fire department is making, the weather remains a problem.

“The weather is not cooperating,” Abel said. “It keeps the smoke (from the fire) down and makes it difficult to breathe outside.”

Deer Springs fire continues to rage

Further south, the state’s largest wildfire continues to rage out of control in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in a rugged landscape about 21 miles northeast of Kanab in Kane County.

(Bureau of Land Management) The Deer Springs Fire on July 7.

The Deer Springs Fire, which broke out Sunday and is believed to be human-caused, has grown from 11,000 acres on Monday to nearly 12,000 acres on Tuesday, according to David Hercher, a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management’s Paria River District.

About 120 federal, state and local firefighters were successful Tuesday in establishing a firebreak on the northern end of the fire to prevent the fire from spreading toward the rural community of Deer Springs, north of the fire. In addition, crews established another firebreak on the opposite side of the fire to slow its southward spread. Winds from the north and northwest aided crews in their efforts, Hercher said.

A fleet of aircraft – nine tankers, four smaller fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter – attacked the inferno from the air. Four more helicopters have been ordered and more firefighters are expected to join the effort shortly, the fire service said.

Due to the increased risk of wildfires caused by high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the National Weather Service has issued a wildfire warning that will remain in effect until Wednesday evening.

Aside from logistics, Hercher said the biggest challenge firefighters have faced so far is the location of the fire, which is largely in forested areas with pine and juniper trees. In addition, there are few roads in the area, meaning crews often have to walk several kilometers to get to the fire site.

In addition, the few existing roads are often sandy and not designed for heavy vehicles.

“Some people said they had to reduce the air pressure in their tires to about 30 pounds to get out there without sinking in the sand,” Hercher said.

The Deer Springs fire is zero percent under control. According to the fire department, there have been no evacuations, deaths, injuries or damage to homes or other buildings.