In the heat of things with Gulch Fire crews; STGnews Videocast, Photo Gallery

A fire crew arrives at the scene and prepares to hike into the fire zone, Arizona Strip, Arizona, July 4, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ARIZONA STRIP – While others are celebrating the Fourth of July with barbecues and fireworks, firefighters across the region, overseen by the Color Country Fire Interagency, are busy battling brush fires and coordinating fire suppression efforts. Among those battling fires over the holiday weekend are 120 personnel deployed to the Gulch Fire, located near Quail Hill, 17 miles south of St. George.

“They’re out there all day and night,” said Rachel Tueller, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip Field Office. “It’s really quiet, behind-the-scenes work.”

Safety and communication

For wildland firefighters, who aren’t always recognized for their service, safety and communication are key on the job, Tueller said.

“Everyone is in constant communication,” she said. “It’s safety first.”

Joe Harris, public affairs officer for Dixie National Forest, said plans are put in place each morning that not only dictate where fire crews will be working but also covering four core elements called LCES, which stands for lookouts, communications, escape routes and safety zones.

The communications portion of the plan helps firefighters know who they need to talk to and keep in contact with, Harris said. Radio communication is coordinated so individual frequencies aren’t jammed up. Some radios also have a limited range, so repeaters are set up along the route between fire crews and their contacts at Incident Command to ensure consistent communication.

Fire crews can be deployed for up 14 days or until a fire is finally extinguished, whichever comes first. Once the 14 days are up, a new crew is rotated in and the original team is given two days to rest.

An individual “day on the job” can last up to 16 hours, Tueller said.

Story continues below

Videocast by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Gulch Fire

The Gulch Fire is one of many wildfires that were triggered by lightning earlier this week. Between Wednesday and Thursday, more than 1,000 lightning strikes were recorded across the region, and multiple fires were ignited, Harris said.

The Gulch Fire started Wednesday around 6:15 p.m. That night, flames could be seen from St. George. The Gulch Fire is one of over 20 fires currently burning between the Arizona Strip and Iron County, which is an area overseen by the Color Country Fire Interagency. Color Country coordinates with local, state and federal agencies on fire suppression efforts.

The Gulch Fire has grown to 340 acres and is currently creeping and smoldering along as it feeds on a fire-sustaining diet of cheatgrass, mixed brush, pinyon/juniper trees and black brush.

So far, the fire is 15 percent contained, Harris said. However, the wilderness terrain has posed some challenges to firefighters.

“This is definitely a hike-in fire,” Harris said.

The fire is in the hills of an area near the Mokaac Middle trailhead, where trucks representing the various agencies involved in fighting the fire are parked. Fire crews arriving at the scene have to walk down an embankment by the trailhead and then hike up over the hillside until they they reach the fire.

“There is some really rugged county,” Harris said. “It’s steep, rocky, nasty country.”

Despite the potential trouble posed by the terrain, Harris said crews will be sticking to the fire through the weekend and see where containment levels are by then. “We’re hoping things are good by Sunday night/Monday morning,” he said.

As of Friday morning, a type III team took over command of the fire. Harris said a type III team is put in once it has been determined that multiple resources are needed over the course of many days to help douse a fire. Many other logistics are also involved.

“You’re looking at a lot more people and a lot more resources on scene,” Harris said. “The complexity (of the fire) goes up a little bit, so you bring in the more experienced (incident commanders).”

Public advisory

Fire officials are requesting the public’s assistance in keeping the area clear for fire crews to work. Fire officials also ask those traveling along the Quail Hill BLM 1069 road to proceed with caution, as fire vehicles and resources are entering and exiting the roadway in the vicinity of the fire.

So far, no road closures or evacuations have been issued. No structures are threatened, and no injuries have been reported in connection with the fire.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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