Lightning brings fires to Saratoga Springs

Michael Rigert DAILY HERALD

Despite darkened skies and showers over much of the county Tuesday, lightning strikes and dry grasses on the west side of Utah Lake combined to create several wildfires near Saratoga Springs.

At least three fires caused by the strikes plagued the Saratoga Springs Fire Department and other fire agencies for much of the afternoon.

Dave Vickers, chief of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department, said his firefighters had just been called out to respond to a brush blaze at the south end of Lake Mountain near the Pelican stone quarry when they discovered two other fires in the vicinity.

In addition to the Prospect fire, crews geared up to contain a blaze one ridge over, dubbed the Dutchman Flat fire, and the Gunrange fire north near milepost 20 on State Route 68 between the highway and the lake.

A helicopter and a single-engine air tanker made several bucket drops on the three hot spots.

"The aircraft bucket drops knocked down the heads of the Gunrange and Prospect fires," he said.

Late afternoon rains from a front that came in around 4 p.m. and water from various fire agencies' water-tender trucks helped douse any remaining fires.

Vickers estimated each brush fire -- none of which threatened structures or roads -- was between 10 and 15 acres in size.

A bumper crop of mostly dry cheat grass that has sprouted up all over the west side of Utah Lake fueled all three fires, he said.

Tuesday's three lightning-induced wildfires coupled with two additional fires started by lightning bolts Saturday equal a total of five lightning strike-started fires in the Saratoga Springs area in the last four days, Vickers said.

A Utah County dispatcher said there were at least six to seven wildfires in the county Tuesday caused by lightning, for the most part on the west side of Utah Lake.

"Luckily they didn't burn fast and natural rock barriers helped keep them contained," Vickers said of Tuesday's three blazes.

However, he said this many fires this early in the season may be a harbinger of even larger and more devastating wildfire problems later this summer.

"We're getting braced for the potential of having a dandy fire season if we're getting fires now with as green as it is," Vickers said.

David James, BYU weather station overseer, said Tuesday's rains were a combination of some low pressure that came up from Southern California and also cooler weather that descended from the Northwest.

"It was the perfect recipe for some thunderstorms," he said.

James said a good portion of the county, particularly the eastern edge, received considerable rainfall. Cedar Hills, he said, recorded a quarter of an inch of precipitation.

A westerly flow of air coming in over the Pacific Ocean is expected to bring continuing cool temperatures and drier weather moving into the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

"We'll dry out over the next couple of days," James said. "There shouldn't be any more thunderstorms after (today)."