Box Canyon blaze grows over the weekend | ParkRecord.com

Box Canyon blaze grows over the weekend

Heavy smoke from the Box Canyon fire is visible over the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir in the Uinta-Cache-National Forest over the weekend. Last week, erratic winds caused the blaze to grow to more than 4,100 acres.

Two weeks ago, suppression efforts on the Box Canyon fire near Smith and Morehouse Reservoir were starting to wind down. The U.S. Forest Service had started gradually removing fire personnel from the area as the weeks-long blaze continued to burn.

Only an eight-man crew has remained on site in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest monitoring the human-caused wildfire, which was first reported on July 28 near the Ledgefork Campground. However, erratic winds conditions on Aug. 25 caused the blaze to spread at a staggering pace north of the Ledgefork Campground, growing to more than 4,100 acres by Monday.

Randy Graham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a few showers moved into the area late last week that caused wind gusts to reach more than 20 miles per hour. He said conditions will likely remain unstable for the next few days.

"A storm system will move through the northern mountain region later this week and, as it approaches, winds will increase a bit on Wednesday and Thursday," Graham said. "By the time we get into Thursday afternoon and Friday, we are looking at about a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorm and like a 20 percent chance on Friday. But sometimes that precipitation doesn't reach the ground."

On Monday, flames continued to snake along ridges moving through dry vegetation and brush mixed with conifer trees. Smoke remained visible throughout the Kamas Valley and heavy near the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir.

The fire was considered about 20 percent contained as of Monday, according to Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, fire information officer with the Uinta-Cache-National Forest.

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"The crew had been monitoring the fire for the past several weeks, but what happened on Thursday is it went outside the perimeters so we are gearing back up," Fitzgerald said.

The Forest Service has reestablished a fire camp alongside Oakley's Town Hall, about 12 miles east of the fire activity. Approximately 55 firefighters have been dispatched to the area, Fitzgerald said, adding that several are from out of state.

The fire has forced the following closures: Ledgefork campground, Smith and Morehouse boat ramp, Mud Lake Flats, as well as the Smith and Morehouse trail and Erickson Basin. On Sunday, the reservoir was closed to all watercraft while helitankers continued to douse the flames with water from the reservoir. Shoreline activities, such as fishing, were still being allowed.

"We are not doing suppression on the full perimeter of it," she said. "There are certain sides where we are taking suppression action, but most of it has burned up into the rock and smoldered out on its own. But certain parts are moving around still."

Four helitankers and five engines were helping crews suppress the blaze. Crews also installed sprinklers in the Ledgefork Campground, while a fire line is being maintained along the north end of the area. On Sunday, the Utah National Guard was activated and provided two Black Hawk helicopters to attack the fire from the air.

"The fire is coming down both sides right now, about half a mile up from the (Ledgefork) campground, but the sprinklers are there as a preventative thing to keep it out of the campground," Fitzgerald said.

As of Monday, the Forest Service had yet to identify a person of interest responsible for causing the fire. The Heber-Kamas-Ranger has asked that anyone with information contact the district 435-654-0470.

Fire crews were also dispatched to three other fires in the Uinta-Cache-National Forest over the weekend.

For more information about the fire, go to http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4907/. To view the air quality in the area, go to airnow.gov.