Widespread rains cool off Utah wildfires in check

SALT LAKE CITY – Widespread rains fell across Utah on Thursday, helping firefighters contain nine major wildfires but raising the threat of a new hazard: landslides.

Fire-scarred mountain slopes will almost certainly unleash debris flows if the rains continue for days or turn heavy, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney said in a multimedia report for news agencies and emergency officials.

“This threat will last for years,” McInerney said Thursday. “We’re setting a stage for what’s to come.”

The light rain could fall across much of Utah for another two days, he said.

Rain and cooler temperatures helped crews hold fire lines on the 8,200-acre Shingle Fire about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City, which threatens 550 cabins or summer homes in Dixie National Forest.

“When it starts raining heavily, the debris is going to move,” interagency fire spokeswoman Rebeca Franco said Thursday. “We haven’t seen any major evidence of that yet, but we could with more precipitation.”

Utah’s scenic Route 14 could be reopened Friday for local residents only, Iron County Det. Jody Edwards said. An evacuation order will be lifted for mountain homes north of the highway; the fire is burning south of Route 14.

The Shingle Fire was ignited by sparks from the muffler of an all-terrain vehicle and was 10 percent contained Thursday.

Up to a quarter-inch of rain fell on Utah’s largest wildfire, which has blackened more than 160 square miles east of Delta and threatens the ranching town of Scipio.

The Clay Springs Fire was 64 percent contained Thursday at a cost of more than $4 million.

“This is much-needed relief. We’ve been asking Mother Nature for help,” fire spokesman Matt Corelli said Thursday. He said the rains haven’t turned heavy enough to cause a debris flow.

Elsewhere in Utah, crews planned burnout operations on a leading edge of the Seeley Fire, which has burned about 60 square miles in the heart of the Manti-LaSal National Forest in central Utah.

The fire, about 20 miles west of Price, was 10 percent contained Thursday.