A wildfire near New Harmony, south of Cedar City, has destroyed 1 home so far and 7 other structures, forced the evacuation of about 40 homes, numerous farm animals, and led to the closure of I-15 between Cedar City and St. George.
The fire broke out at 1:50 on Wednesday afternoon. The investigation into the cause continues but it appears to be another human caused fire.
The flames spread quickly, driven by a stiff dry wind from the south pushing the blaze northward along I-15 and into a hilly area of brush, juniper, and pinion -- and home to about 40 cabins and homes.
Harold Haynie, a daily commuter between Cedar City and St. George, reported the initial stages of the fire by mobile phone:
"The fire appears to be on the north side of the main road that goes from I-15 into New Harmony. The smoke crossing I-15 is very thick. They just now closed the traffic going south on I-15 at the Hamilton Fork exit. There were some evacuations. Those people are being asked to go to the LDS chapel in Kanarraville. The flames are close tot he freeway. You can see plenty of flames, lots of burning, and the smoke is very thick."
The evacuation center that was established at the LDS church in Kanarraville was moved to Cedar City when Kanarraville itself became threatened by the encroaching flames.
Paul Dunston is the Disaster Relief Coordinator for the American Red Cross. He is at the emergency shelter now located in Cedar City: "We're accepting anybody that is displaced and needs a place to stay for the night. Or is just looking for some time to kill and wants a fresh drink of water and a snack. We'll take them all."
Humans are not the only ones affected by the fire. There are many evacuees of the 4-footed variety. Fortunately, Iron County's own Julie Maron heads the statewide agency Utah Emergency Animal Response Coalition. The formation of the organization was inspired by a wildfire in New Harmony about 4 years ago.
"This isn't the first one we've been on this week. We were up at Saratoga Springs earlier in the week. We've got people over in Fairfield evacuating that town. Then it happened to hit my backyard. We were ready. We've been training for this. We're letting people know that we have a place for your animals. It is secure. It is safe and we've got support here 24-7 until this things dies down."
As of Thursday afternoon, I-15 has been reopened and the fire is 60% contained.