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Smoke chokes Bryce Canyon National Park as Utah wildfire chars 3,000 acres

by Anastasia Hufham, Salt Lake Tribune |

The Left Fork Fire continues to rage in Dixie National Forest, having scorched over 3,000 acres as of Tuesday morning with only about 5 percent containment.

Smoke from the fire is billowing into Bryce Canyon National Park. The blaze is burning approximately 6.5 miles from Rainbow Point, a viewpoint on the southern end of the park, near where officials closed three of the park’s backcountry campsites Tuesday. The park does not expect additional closures at this time.

Officials recommended an evacuation of the Bryce Woodland Estates Tuesday evening “due to increased wind and fire behavior,” the Kane County Sheriff’s Office said. The community is located southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park, off Highway 89. As of about 5:30 p.m., Kane County deputies and the fire warden were notifying residents and helping them get to safety.

The Left Fork Fire is an outgrowth of a prescribed burn that got out of control May 9. After it burned 100 acres, officials believed the fire was contained. Due to strong winds and heat this weekend, the fire reignited Saturday.

Winds picked up Tuesday afternoon, grounding air support near the southwestern corner of the blaze, where crews were starting to see more activity, Sierra Hellstrom, a spokeswoman with a Panguitch-based Type 3 Incident Management Team, told the Tribune.

Air support still is active for other parts of the fire thanks to reduced winds Monday and Tuesday. There, crews have spread retardant and water over spot fires in the area that are burning hot.

Officials do not have a time estimate on when the fire might be contained.

Fire managers were able to more effectively assess the fire’s spread Monday due to more favorable weather conditions, which also resulted in minimal fire growth.

Bryce Canyon officials stated Monday that northwestern winds had reduced smoke in the Bryce Amphitheater area, but smoke and haze persisted throughout the park, particularly on the Southern Scenic Drive.

The park has not experienced any drastic changes in air quality, though officials are telling the public that smoke and haze are a possibility throughout the park.