Fire crews turn the tide on Pack Creek fire and squelch seven new lightning-triggered fires
Crews are getting the upper hand on the massive Pack Creek fire, which has burned nearly 9,000 acres to date on the northern and western slopes of the La Sal Mountains.
An army of nearly 600 firefighters have converged on the fire, which started with a simple unattended campfire on June 9.
Days of intense firefighting has turned the tide on the fire that was 62 percent contained as of June 22. Officials reported that the entire fire may not be contained for a long period of time extending into weeks.
On June 22, the fire perimeter was more than 55 miles long and the wildfire had destroyed four homes, five additional outbuildings, and threatened dozens more. The total cost of fire suppression efforts as of June 22 was $7.8 million.
Many popular recreation areas, including Warner Lake and Oowah Lake, remain closed, along with more than a dozen popular trails.
Despite the additional resources brought by a Type 2 Incident Management team, the crews face difficult conditions as the result of record heat, strong winds, extremely dry fuels, and steep, rugged terrain.
Despite the challenges, a storm front with higher humidity and lessened winds helped the crews turn the tide.
While the arrival of storms helped in many ways, it also brought red flag warnings because of dry lightning.
Three fires were triggered by dry lightning on June 18 and four more were triggered on June 19.
Crews from the Pack Creek fire were diverted to the new fires and were able to stop their growth.
This included the Montezuma Canyon fire, started by lightning on June 18 three miles southeast of Monticello. A helicopter was able to control the growth of that fire.
Of the four fires that started on June 19, the Sego Fire in the Book Cliffs north of Moab had grown to approximately 150 acres on June 22.
The Pack Creek fire started at an abandoned campfire at the day-use area near the Pack Creek Ranch community on June 9. By evening, the fire had grown to approximately five acres.
By the next morning, the fire had grown to approximately 50 acres and continued to grow under the high heat, strong winds, and dry conditions.
By evening on Thursday, it totaled more than 500 acres.
Overnight on Thursday the fire experienced another massive expansion and by Friday morning, just 36 hours after the blaze started, the fire totaled more than 5,000 acres.
After several days, crews were able to stop the exponential spread of the fire. Since then, the total acreage of fire has hovered around 9,000 acres for several days, with minor growth.
The initial response was by volunteers and officials from the local fire departments.
In the initial response, the crews were able to keep the fast-moving flames away from a number of homes in the Pack Creek Ranch community.
The residents of the Pack Creek Ranch community were evacuated from their homes in the early hours of the fire.
As the fire expanded away from the community, they were able to return to their homes by Sunday, June 13.
The La Sal Loop Road is now open. However, the Manti-La Sal National Forest Closure remains in place and the area remains closed for any type of recreation on public lands.
The roads to Oowah Lake, Warner Lake, and Geyser Pass remain closed. Road closures for La Sal Pass Road and Dark Canyon Lake Road also remain ongoing due to fire activity on the northeast side of the fire.
Evacuations remain in place in and around the area east of Geyser Pass from Blue Lake to the east towards the Dark Canyon area.
Trail closures associated with the Pack Creek Fire include The Whole Enchilada, Burro Pass, Dry Fork of Mill Creek, Moonlight Meadows, Clark Lake, Warner to Miners, Mountain View, Schumanns Gulch, Trans La Sal, South Mountain, Pack Creek, and Hells Canyon.
The fire started near the boundary of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Expansion of the blaze has primarily been to the east and north on Forest Service land.
Forest Service investigators continue to explore leads to help identify those responsible for triggering the fire. A tip line for information is 775-355-5337.
Updates about the fire are posted to utahfireinfo.gov.