Black Pine Fire

The Black Pine Fire burns in Box Elder County near the Utah-Idaho state line on Tuesday, July 20.

The first large wildfire of the summer in Box Elder County continues to burn in a remote area west of Snowville as local, state and federal agencies team up to attack the blaze that has grown to more than 500 acres near the Idaho state line.

The Black Pine Fire started late Tuesday morning along the north side of SR 30 near the intersection with SR 42, also known as Curlew Junction. It is burning in an area populated mostly by sagebrush, juniper and dry grasses.

The cause of the fire was still undetermined and remained under investigation as of Wednesday, but officials say it wasn’t started by lightning, which tends to strike at high points within a given geographic area.

“It was a roadside fire,” Box Elder County Fire Marshal Corey Barton said.

Some 80 firefighters had the blaze about 20% contained on Wednesday after it had burned approximately 560 acres. While crews have been able to establish a perimeter, Barton said shifting winds and persistent heat have presented challenges for those on the scene.

“We’ve still got a lot of areas where if there’s some obscure fire behavior, it could push outside the area (of containment),” he said. “It’s not actively growing — we just can’t call it more than 20% contained right now.”

Weather cells moving through the area have produced wind gusts, but no measurable precipitation to assist the firefighting effort.

The fire was threatening a nearby ranch to the east and a cabin to the north on Tuesday, but those structures are now secured and well protected, Barton said. No injuries have been reported from the scene.

The collaborative response to the fire includes people from the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands working with local fire departments from Box Elder County, Snowville, Park Valley and Fielding.

Road graders and bulldozers are being used to establish and secure the perimeter, while planes and a helicopter have been dropping retardant and water from the air.

Access to water became a problem on Tuesday after a power outage disabled well pumps in the area, but Barton said that issue has been resolved and there is now enough water available to sustain the firefighting effort.

The fire forced a brief closure of SR 42 on Tuesday, but all major roads in the area remained open on Wednesday.

The Black Pine Fire is the first significant wildfire of the season in Box Elder County despite the persistently hot, dry conditions. While part of that might be due to luck, Barton said training and preparation are the primary reasons why there haven’t been more big blazes in the county so far this summer.

“The wind direction has been in our favor on a couple (of fires) that could have gotten bad for us,” he said, “but we’ve also got some really good crews out there. They’re getting on them quickly, and we’ve got a great system in the county.”

According to the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, as of Wednesday there had been 648 wildfires recorded in the state so far this year, including 31 in Box Elder County, that have burned a combined 60,000 acres. Two-thirds of those have been started by human activity. While those numbers are down from the same time last year, they still represent a sharp increase from 2019 and previous years.

Rainfall has been nearly nonexistent in Box Elder County this summer, but that could change in the coming weeks as the seasonal monsoon rains that have helped firefighting efforts in southern Utah in recent days will eventually push their way into the northern part of the state, said Kayli Yardley, fire prevention specialist for FFSL.

In the meantime, however, Yardley said smoky skies will continue to be a common sight in the area.

“It’s going to impact Utah from fires in other states,” she said.