Coal Hollow Fire has long road
ahead towards total containment
By James Tilson
FAIRVIEW—The Coal Hollow Fire grew over last weekend, as thunderstorms provoked a spike in activity and the fire jumped US 6 just west of the junction with Hwy 89.
The Coal Hollow Fire started on August 4, due to lighting strike. It soon became aggressive and fast moving in steep terrain. As of August 16, the fire had grown to 26,380 acres with 14 percent containment. No containment lines have been lost, however, and with calmer weather and cloud cover on Wednesday fire containment continued.
On Sunday afternoon, thunderstorms caused a spike in activity, with high winds pushing the fire on its north edge near US 6. With the fire jumping the highway, US 6 was closed on Monday through Wednesday, but was then re-opened on Thursday with speed limited to 45 mph.
After the change of weather on Wednesday, firefighters on the north edge of the fire were able to continue working on containing the fire. Firefighters on the southern edge reported minimal growth, and were able to re-inforce existing lines.
David Vining, operations section chief with the U.S. Forest Service, explained to the audience at the community meeting at North Sanpete High School on August 9, “We have to identify the values at risk. When we talk about values at risk, we’re talking a lot about this Highway 6 corridor… It’s a main highway corridor. There are power lines that feed six towns. There are railroad tracks that are used about up to six times a day. There are houses in there. There’s a lot going on in that corridor there.”
The areas to the east and northwest of the fire were the most active. Fire crews had built a fire line around where the fire had jumped US 6, and are hopeful that US 6 will continue to hold as a border for most of the north edge of the fire.
On the east flank, the fire is coming up to Starvation Road, which firefighter hope to use as a containment line. There was little growth reported on the south side of the fire.
Cody Harmar, councilman at Spring City and a fireman himself, has been in close contact with the Spring City crew that has been working on the Coal Hollow Fire. He said that the messages from the crew indicate the crew is happy to be working the fire, and “They’re kicking butt up there.”
Vining echoed those sentiments. “We’ve been really lucky for the support Type 2 team we’ve received in both the Hilltop and Coal Hollow Fires from Utah County and from Sanpete County volunteers. ‘You guys are really, really lucky. So if you see a volunteer out there, or a county sheriff, or an equipment operator, be sure to say, ‘Thanks.’”
Harmar said the Spring City crew was working on the south side of the fire, and he noted that forest fires often burn slower on the downhill side of a slope. At the same time, conditions can change rapidly, and crews must be alert.
Harmar, noting that the fire picked up activity during weekend thunderstorms, do not wish for storms, but rather calm weather. “Thunderstorms bring high winds and lighting, neither of which firefighters want. We’d rather have calm conditions so that we can finish our jobs.”
Vining warned that Coal Hollow was not going to be cured right away. “Moving forward, Coal Hollow is going to be a fairly long duration event for you guys. It’s not going to be put out in the next three days, seven days, maybe even two weeks. So just prepare yourselves for that.”
Spring City has sent one truck, with three to five people to work the fire. Harmar notes that resources throughout the West have been stretched thin, because of the many fires going on all over.
The Coal Hollow Fire has 729 total personnel, with 37 engines, 4 dozers, 7 water tenders, 6 helicopters and 2 fixed wing air tankers.