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Incoming lightning storm could cause repeat of wildfire clusters in Box Elder County

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BOX ELDER COUNTY (ABC4 News) – A storm forecasted for Wednesday or Thursday could cause a repeat of wildfire clusters for firefighters after they contained the majority of the 32 wildfires sparked by lightning Sunday night.

“There were hundreds of lightning strikes that went through with this storm system that passed over northwestern Utah earlier this week. We’re still finding more,” said Jason Curry, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. “They were all in really rapid succession. Crews locally there from Box Elder County, from the State of Utah, from BLM were all working throughout the night to put these fires out, locate them, and get them taken care of.”

Some of those fires were as small as half an acre. But two of those fires topped the list of the largest wildfires in Utah this year. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Russel Fire burned 5,950 acres and the Curlew Flat Fire burned 4,332 acres. Combined with the rest of the fires in the area, officials said the total burnt acreage sits anywhere between 10,000 to 12,000 acres. 

Approximately 70 personnel responded to the fires, but officials said the cost remained low because there were no aerial resources needed.

“One of the most expensive parts of fighting wildland fires is aviation resources, retardant tankers, helicopters. But for these fires up here, we didn’t have any retardant drop. There’s been some helicopter use. But mostly ground crews are what put these fires out,” said Curry.

Although the nearly three-dozen wildfires stayed within rural areas and away from residential neighborhoods, Curry said the damage will impact cattle ranchers.

“We didn’t have any homes that were threatened. But this is valuable ranchland, not only for people’s livelihood and their cattle ranching but for wildlife. These are primarily private lands and there are a lot of large ranches. Every acre that burns up is acreage that they won’t have for their livestock to feed on,” he said.

Crews said most of the fires are under control. But now they’re worried about a second round of wildfires this week with another storm on the way.

“Weather, in general, is usually our biggest adversary. Both with lightning because of the ignitions and also the fire behavior with the wind, the heat, and the dry air, those are the things that drive fire behavior from a weather standpoint,” said Curry.

In the meantime, firefighters will put down fuel breaks and scrape down vegetation to mitigate the damage.

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