Dollar Ridge Fire Burned Nearly 60,000 Acres In Wasatch And Duchesne Counties

Aug 10, 2018

The Dollar Ridge Fire burned nearly 60,000 acres
Credit Utah Division Of Forestry Fire State Lands

Wasatch County is recovering from the massive Dollar Ridge fire which began last month near the Strawberry Reservoir.

The county's Fire Chief, Ernie Giles, said in his 30 years on the job, it's the worst wildfire he's seen--maybe the worst in that county's history.

Giles told KPCW that the fire is designated as 100 percent contained, but it's still burning in some spots.

"They're trying to clean up some old dead fuels inside the black line. Actually, it's on the Ashley forest right now currently burning. (The black line) is a line that we create with a dozer or a backburn. That we actually backburn into it to give us a clear space between the outside and inside where the fire is burning."

Giles said they allow the flames to continue to burn "They're trying to clean up some dead beetle kill, dead pine trees."

The fire burned a little over 59,000 acres. The cost of fighting the blaze was $18 million and will probably increase.

They were luckier, he said, with a blaze that broke out near the Deer Creek Reservoir also in July.

"That fire only burned less than probably about eight hours until we could get a line around it. It doesn't take very long, we had helicopters and scoop planes fighting it."

The Dollar Ridge fire began in Wasatch County, and damaged about half-a-dozen buildings. But the bulk of the fire spread to Duchesne County and burned many more homes and structures there.

"There's a fellow I was visiting with, he was looking to try to rehab his property where it's burned. There was a pretty decent rainstorm out there about a week ago, it washed all this debris down into the river. It re-channeled the Wild Strawberry at Timber Canyon and plugged up the bridge. So they have notified the property owners that have some cabins back in Wild Strawberry that the road is going to be closed the rest of the year for rehab. They can't control the river, it's been in and out of its channel just with log jams and debris that have washed off of the Dollar Ridge fire." 

He said they have pinpointed the area where the fire began, but the cause is still under investigation. Giles said it will likely be hard to point out who or what started the blaze.

He said they aren't aware of any lightning strikes at the time of the fire.

"No lightning strikes that they could determine in that area at that point and time. Humidity was down 10-15% when this fire started, and with some winds it was just crazy to watch. I was out there and watched it. It moved so fast you couldn't hardly keep ahead of it in an automobile."

They will also have to deal with the ecological damage.

"It'll be devastating to the fishery. It actually runs down and runs into Starvation. They're trying to do some prevention now. Trying to get it re-seeded so that some of those grasses can make it grow up through, but Mother Nature is pretty handy. It's amazing to go out there and see there's already green grass about an inch or two high. The elk and deer are out feeding through the burned timber."

Wildfires striking with more intensity in the West seems to be the new normal. Giles said one reason is the amount of dead undergrowth in the forest.

The Forest Service is planning some controlled burns to take out that growth. However, Giles confessed his basic preference is against any fire.

"I think what has happened--and I'm guilty as I said earlier in the program, I like to extinguish them--and what has happened over the last 50 years is that is what we've done, is extinguish it. Where there's no grazing or the it's too steep for grazing to take place, this undergrowth takes over. It just builds up to where once one starts it just seems like it explodes. We're hoping to clean some of this stuff out. Sometimes a fire can be healthy but it's awful, devastating at times too."