‘Unusual’ winds carry smoke from prescribed burns into Southern Utah; conditions may persist

Fire crews cover ground operations during prescribed fires being ignited throughout October near the North Rim, Grand Canyon, Ariz., Oct. 13, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY — A layer of smoke blanketing Washington and Iron counties Wednesday and lingering Thursday resulted from smoke of a prescribed fire near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon being driven by southwest winds.

Nearly 9,000 acres of dense forest area will ultimately be burned in a series of prescribed fires scheduled throughout the month of October, and the smoke that was sent drifting into Southern Utah Wednesday originated from two fires still active: the Tipover and the Thompson fires.

Initial photo of prescribed Fire on Tipover during the first few days of operations, Kaibab National Forest, Ariz., Oct. 20, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the National Forest Service, St. George News

More than 3,700 acres have been burned between the two, and the smoke seen locally was carried by southwest winds that carried it to the north/northeast.

North Kaibab Ranger District Public Information Officer David Hercher called the wind patterns “unusual,” adding that these patterns – and subsequent smoke intrusion into Southern Utah – could continue as ignition operations move forward.

The National Weather Service is predicting calm winds through the weekend, coming from the south/southeast Friday and Saturday, then shifting to the north Saturday evening.

Prescribed fires are conducted to remove accumulated forest litter and debris that builds up and can pose an abiding threat to nearby communities, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, as well as to provide protection for wildlife habitat, historic sites, watersheds and infrastructure in areas where human development meets the forest.

“These prescribed burns are six to seven years in the making because so many components need to line up,” Hercher said, “and we wait for the right conditions before we can start.”

Weather, temperature, humidity, terrain, resources and other factors determine if conditions are right, Hercher said, and the areas designated for these particular operations contain a mix of vegetation and trees, with a heavy concentration of conifers.

“These particular areas haven’t burned in more than 100 years, so they are like a matchbox waiting to happen.”

These ideal conditions have allowed for large-scale aerial operations to run over the last month along Forest Road 270, with unseasonably warm, dry weather in the area over the last few weeks throughout northern Arizona.

Tipover prescribed fire burns steady as shown during the first few days of operations, Kaibab National Forest, Ariz., Oct. 20, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the National Forest Service, St. George News

Using aerial operations for prescribed fires is often preferred with the type of rugged terrain typically found in the backcountry, as it minimizes the need for ground firing, which can pose a higher risk of danger for the 50-60 firefighters on the ground.

Fire managers continue to manage the two fires still burning; however, new ignitions are presently on hold while agencies wait for favorable conditions to return,  National Park Service Fire Information Officer Michelle Fidler said.

“We still have the two fires, which are active, and our plan is to continue with these prescribed operations over the next several weeks as soon as we return to more favorable conditions,” Fidler said.

For more details and up-to-date information on the interagency prescribed fire operations currently underway near the North Rim, go to Inciweb fire information online.

All prescribed burning is subject to approval by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and appropriate weather conditions. For additional information on the department’s Smoke Management Division or to view prescribed burns authorized on any given day, click here.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • DB October 27, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    “A layer of smoke blanketing Washington and Iron Counties Wednesday and lingering Thursday resulted from the smoke of a prescribed fire near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon being driven by southwest winds.”
    Please help me here. A southwest wind would blow smoke to the northeast, away from Dixie. What am I missing? Just a little thing…

    • Joyce Kuzmanic October 28, 2017 at 5:04 am

      Good question, DB. Wind direction refers to the compass direction from which the wind blows; its bearing, on the other hand, is the direction the wind is going. Thus, in this case, a southwest wind is blowing northeast.

      I hope that helps,

      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

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