Firefighters in Utah spent the Fourth of July trying to gain control over a wildfire near a popular fishing reservoir that burned about 30 structures and forced hundreds of cabins and homes to be evacuated.
High wind gusts and extremely dry conditions have fueled the flames near Strawberry Reservoir, growing the fire to at least 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) and forcing authorities to shut down high-tension power lines in the area Wednesday evening.
Authorities also ordered additional evacuations of a campground next to the reservoir and nearby subdivisions after a hot and gusty afternoon pushed the flames closer to the reservoir.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert estimated Tuesday that 20 to 30 structures, including several cabins and homes, had been destroyed. Additional structures burned later that day, but the fire was too hot and dangerous for officials to assess the damage Wednesday, said Donald Jaques, a spokesman for the agencies.
Authorities have extended evacuations along U.S. 40 across two counties in an area that includes hills and canyons dotted with sagebrush, forests, cabins, campgrounds and homes.
Officials estimated earlier in the week that at least 200 to 300 homes were evacuated but they didn’t know Wednesday how many people were told to flee. Those who were ordered to leave were being directed to the small town of Duchesne, roughly two hours southeast of Salt Lake City.
Their pets, about a dozen horses and 30 to 40 dogs and cats, were housed at the nearby county fairgrounds.
A portion of Strawberry Reservoir was closed so planes helping fight the fire could scoop water and drop it onto the flames, Jaques said.
Officials believe the fire was human-caused, but they were still investigating how it started Sunday.
Utah’s Department of Transportation suggested drivers avoid traveling on smoke-clogged U.S. Highway 40 through the area. The highway connects Salt Lake City with eastern Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument and recreation areas where the Green River winds through desert canyons.
Transportation officials warned that a change in the fire’s behavior could shut down the highway.
Price reported from Las Vegas.