Winds fuel Mirror Lake fires
Two wildfires burning in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, totaling more than 2,800 acres, remained active as increased winds continued to fuel the blazes.
The two fires — Murdock Fire and Slate Fire — are being referred to as the Mirror Lake Complex. They are burning northeast of Kamas and are considered 15 percent contained overall as of Friday morning. Both fires were caused by lightning.
Robyn Broyles, an information officer with the U.S. Forest Service, said the Murdock Fire grew by about 1,045 acres between Wednesday and Friday morning. It is now considered 21 percent contained.
“We had between 20 to 30 mph wind gusts (Wednesday),” she said.
Winds are expected to push the fire northeast over the following couple of days, Broyles said. Red flag warnings will be in effect over the weekend as “very dry and windy conditions” are expected to produce gusts of more than 40 mph. She added, “That may produce active fire behavior resulting in a smoke column.”
She said the fire was not threatening any structures or resources, adding it is more of a risk to place fire personnel in front of the fire.
“We are watching it move through these canyons, which are super steep,” she said. “There is 90 percent dead, standing timber where the fire is burning right now. We are not going to put firefighters in a dangerous situation where there is steep terrain and it is moving like that.”
The fire is burning within Murdock Canyon. To the west of the blaze is a roadway, Broyles said, that the fire has not crossed. She said the Forest Service is using natural features to contain the blaze.
“We are not concerned as it moves toward those features because it is not going to go anywhere,” she said. “As it moves through those drainages, there is a lot of bug kill. These very dangerous conditions are preventing firefighters from safely working directly near the fire area. Instead, they are leveraging the bare granite Murdock Basin cliffs to contain the fire on its west flank while the southern flank is already contained.”
Broyles said there is a containment line on the south side of the fire. But, she added, concerns are mounting for the area north of the fire that includes the Mirror Lake campgrounds.
“We have identified the structures that need to be protected, and we are cutting that vegetation out and down so if the fire does come we can protect it,” she said. “We just want to be prepared.”
Broyles encouraged the public traveling along the Mirror Lake Highway not to stop and observe or photograph the fire, especially between mile markers 22 and 35.
“What is happening is people are pulling over and that is dangerous,” she said. “It would really help us out if people would try and not pull over to the side and just keep driving.”
The Slate Fire has continued to burn slowly, with little to no growth. It has burned 634 acres. Two hand crews are using hoses to put out hot spots in the area. Containment went up 2 percent Wednesday to 17 percent. Fire officials anticipate the blaze will be safely contained within a few days. It is not posing any risk to the highway or other infrastructure.
More than 200 fire personnel are fighting the blazes in the Mirror Lake Complex with the help of five helicopters.
Fire officials are monitoring a weather system that is expected to move through the area early next week that could bring potential moisture.
The following trail and campground closures have been implemented in the area: Highline Trail, Naturalist Basin, Four Lakes Basin, East Fork Duchesne River Trail along with the Murdock Basin, Broadhead Meadows, Lost Creek Campground, Fehr Lake Trail, Mirror Lake Campground, North Fork Duchesne River Trail and Mirror Lake trails. All areas on the south side of the Mirror Lake Highway between mile marker 22 and 35 are closed.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”