Image: Plane drops retardant
Scott G. Winterton  /  AP
An air tanker drops retardant on a fire near New Harmony, Utah, on Sunday.
updated 8/31/2009 10:50:08 AM ET 2009-08-31T14:50:08

About 275 more homes were evacuated Sunday as a wildfire that already destroyed three houses and blackened more than 12 square miles continued to threaten this rural southwestern Utah town.

The lightning-sparked Mill Flat fire had been burning in the Pine Valley Wilderness area for more than a month before it flared up over the weekend near the town of New Harmony.

On Saturday, the fire burned three homes: One that was a primary residence, one that was a second home and a guest house, said Dean Cox, emergency services director for Washington County. About seven other "outbuildings" also burned and about 75 houses were evacuated, he said.

By Sunday afternoon, about 350 homes in the area had been evacuated, Cox said. Washington County Search and Rescue crews spent the morning going door-to-door urging residents to leave the area. Some people have opted not to leave.

An evacuation shelter was set up in Kanarraville, about 10 miles away, but Cox said no one slept there Saturday night.

Another 200 or so homeowners have been told they likely be given an hour's notice to get out if the fire continues to threaten.

Crews were concerned that hot, dry and windy conditions could fan the fire.

"It continues to be very dangerous and very challenging, both for the firefighters and the community," said Kenton Call, a spokesman for the Dixie National Forest.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert took an aerial tour of the fire Sunday afternoon, said spokeswoman Angie Welling.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced early Sunday that it would contribute to firefighting costs after the state confirmed more than 6 square miles had burned. FEMA said the fire was threatening 550 homes and 58 commercial properties.

Firefighters continued to battle the fire into the evening Saturday with air tankers dropping retardant to slow the blaze. They braced for more dangerous conditions Sunday afternoon.

"Today's challenge for our firefighters is to provide structure protection in the face of red flag warnings," incident commander Randy Turrill, said in a statement Sunday. "Public and firefighter safety is our top priority."

Heavy smoke and ash from the fire has been dispersed throughout southwestern Utah, fire officials said.

More crews were scheduled to arrive at the fire later in the day, including a national incident team. Call said he expects that crew to take over fire management Monday morning.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments