Lime Fire in gorge grows to over 2,000 acres as hand crews and aircraft continue to fight blaze

Flames burned through brush and grass near Interstate 15. Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 12, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Cathy Barber, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — An aerial survey conducted on Tuesday morning revealed the extent of the Lime Fire’s spread in the Virgin River Gorge, with the latest estimate placing the fire’s size at 2,063 acres.

The rocky, hilly terrain in the gorge has complicated the firefighters’ response, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 12, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation, St. George News

The fire, which was sparked in the late evening on Monday, forced the temporary closure of both lanes of Interstate 15 through the gorge.

The fire burned through the night, but the highway was able to be secured and reopened as responders continued their efforts Tuesday morning.

Ty Mizer, fire management officer for the Arizona Strip District of the Bureau of Land Management, told St. George News the fire picked up intensity in the early morning, and the changing conditions continue to force firefighters to adapt.

“There were a few remnant cells from last night that were fanned by gusty and erratic winds,” Mizer said. “Currently, it’s on the top of a mesa between Black Canyon and Purgatory, and it’s trying to come off the hill, which is in our favor as opposed to going up.”

Several single-engine air tankers and air attack aircraft have joined crews on the ground in fighting the Lime Fire. The Lime Fire currently has about 100 responders working to contain the fire. 

Responders directed traffic and cordoned off the freeway on Monday night, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 12, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation, St. George News

According to a press release, engines from federal agencies, including BLM Arizona, BLM Utah, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service are working alongside cooperator engines from the Beaver Dam Littlefield Fire District.

The area is under flash flood warning along with other parts of Southern Utah and northern Arizona. There’s potential for the rains to help or hinder firefighting efforts depending on their intensity and prevalence of lightning, Mizer said.

“If we do get some moisture in there, it could help because it’s light fuels, and they’ll respond well to the moisture coming in,” he said. “However, for access and firefighter safety it could be a problem for us, especially if it’s flooding and causing issues with the road or with the public on I-15.”

Other safety concerns for responders working in the area include high temperatures and the inherent dangers of working in close proximity to the interstate. Temperatures in the gorge are expected to rise as high as 105 degrees Tuesday, and Mizer said firefighters will be working on both sides of the highway and in the median at some points.

A poster showing fire safety tips displayed in the Field Office for the Arizona Strip District of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George, Utah, July 12, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Rachael Carnahan, public affairs officer for BLM-Arizona Strip District, said that even though the interstate is open, they are still requesting the public to practice caution while driving through that stretch of the highway. She said the efforts by the public to protect firefighters in the course of their duties is critical – as well as being aware of fire prevention behavior to prevent future wildfires.

“We are limited in resources this time of year because we’re drawing from a national pool of resources,” Carnahan said. “We do ask the public to be mindful. We have had two other fires in the gorge, and we know that the last one was human caused due to lack of vehicle maintenance.”

Drivers towing trailers should always check their chains and ensure that dragging chains don’t start brush fires along the roadway. Be aware of the areas where you park your vehicle, as the heat from the underside of a vehicle can spark dry grass or other brush below.

She said that any steps the public could take to prevent human-caused fires will help fire agencies best use their limited resources.

The press release stated that as of Tuesday morning, the fire was at 0% containment, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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