Utah, USA — More than 700 firefighters continued Tuesday to battle a deadlywildfire that has burned nearly 40,000 acres – 62 square miles – in thenortheast corner of Utah. Residents who were evacuated from several small ruraltowns were expected to be allowed to return home beginning at 8 a.m, Wednesday.
Part of the fire was burning in the Ashley National Forest and away from thecommunities that had been threatened earlier. A fire spokesman denied numerousreports published elsewhere that the so-called Neola North fire might be allowedto burn all summer in the national forest to clear dead trees.
“That was a rumor,” said spokesman Marian Swinney. “They areactively attacking it. They are not going to leave it burn.”
The fire was 20 percent contained as of Tuesday night.
“We were really pleased to see 20 percent tonight,” Swinney said,noting that weather conditions remain extremely hot, dry and windy. “It’sstill a tinderbox out there.”
The fire has burned 39,553 acres.
The fire, which killed three people on Friday, was burning about three milesnorth of Neola. The area is about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City.
One firefighter was reported injured with a broken leg.
The fire was burning on private and Forest Service land as well on the Uintahand Ouray Indian reservations. Large portions of the Ashley National Forestremained closed to the public.
Some 767 firefighters were battling the blaze both on the ground and from theair with air tankers and helicopters bombarding the flames with water andretardant. More firefighters were expected to join the fire lines. There was noofficial report on how many homes or buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., toured the fire area on Tuesday. Huntsman hadearlier deployed 100 National Guardsmen to assist law enforcement personnel andhad declared a statewide fire ban that prohibits camp fires, smoking andfireworks on federal, state and unincorporated county lands across the state. Heurged local governments and law enforcement officials to strictly enforce theirregulations regarding fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday.
“The best way to celebrate the establishment of our country and ourstate is to be mindful of the dangers fires – and fireworks in particular -bring, especially in light of the dry and precarious conditions we’reexperiencing,” he said.
No date was given for when the fire might be fully contained.