Business slow in Brian Head as fire reaches 66,700 acres

BRIAN HEAD, Iron County — Travelers and tourists can now drive all of Parowan Canyon, officials announced Monday, as firefighters continue to battle a wildfire that has burned nearly 105 square miles.

The canyon was opened in sections over the past week as the Brian Head Fire headed northeast. Crews kept the wildfire at 65 percent containment on Monday.

Panguitch Lake is also open to visitors for camping, fishing and swimming.

But the Fourth of July fireworks in the town of Brian Head have been canceled, said Jim Ostler, the managing partner of the Brian Head general store. His store isn’t losing money, he said, but it’s definitely not making as much as usual.

“It was very slow compared with a normal Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “There just aren’t very many people.”

The entire town was evacuated for 13 days at the end of June.

Robby Hartlmaier, who runs Georg’s Ski and Bike Shop, said he rented a handful of bikes to customers on Monday. Last year during the same time, he said the shop rented more than 25 bikes every day.

“It’s not even remotely close to what it was last year just because our bike trails we really rely on have been torched,” Hartlmaier said. “We’re not seeing near the traffic in Brian Head as we have in the past.”

But he believes many of the visitors are coming to support Brian Head businesses, or to visit where the nation’s largest wildfire this summer burned.

“We’ll see what happens after the holiday,” he said. “We’re ready for tourism. There’s still a lot to do.”

Residents at Beaver Dam and Blue Springs communities were allowed to return home Monday.

Bear Valley, Red Creek, Second Left Hand Canyon, Little Valley, Castle Valley, Tebbs Ranch, Horse Valley, Clear Creek and Little Creek Ranch remain under evacuation.

“Brian Head town is quickly getting back to normal,” said Bret Howser, the town manager. “We’re a little worried that people remain under the impression that the town has burned down and there’s no reason to come visit us anymore. That’s not the case at all. The town was barely touched by the fire, and it’s all still beautiful and green here. (There’s) plenty of recreation and activities for everybody.”

Five Mile and Three Mile roads are still closed due to the fire, which has burned more than 66,700 acres. The Dixie National Forest also has closed areas on lands north of state Route 143.

Fire officials warned drivers to be aware of short delays and utility traffic as firefighters work to clear dangerous trees and watch for hot spots.

On Sunday the fire was active on the northern flank near the Little Creek Peak area, burning through pockets of timber and creating smoke columns expected to continue through Monday.

The Brian Head Fire started on June 17 when a cabin owner tried to burn weeds around his property. The wildfire destroyed 13 homes and eight outbuildings and caused hundreds to evacuate their homes for nearly two weeks.

“The town wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a terrific response from the firefighters, especially our own guys in the first couple of hours,” Ostler said Monday. “The firefighters literally saved the town.”

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