Milford Flat fire in central Utah burns 160,000 acres in one day!

This fire in mostly juniper and cheatgrass (aka “june grass”) was fanned by high winds. It closed Interstate 15 for 95 miles. It contributed to the deaths of two people. The fire was started by lightning. It continues to grow. There is now an official government web site on the fire.

Milford Flat fire one of biggest in Utah history. By Nate Carlisle and Nathan C. Gonzalez. The Salt Lake Tribune

Milford Flat blaze creates dangerous area traffic. By Erin Alberty. The Salt Lake Tribune

Update: I-15 closed again, Milford Flat fire now burning more than 280,000 acres. By Nate Carlisle and Robert Gehrke. The Salt Lake Tribune

Update July 9. Milford Flat fire, Utah’s largest ever, sears its mark among nation’s worst. The Salt Lake Tribune.

Update July 9. Utah ablaze: Only 109 firefighters battling 282,287-acre Milford Flat Fire. By Laura Hancock. Deseret Morning News

Update July 10. Lighter winds help to hold Milford Flat fire to just over 300,000 acres. By Nate Carlisle and July Fahys. The Salt Lake Tribune.

Update July 11. Crews have contained 30 percent of blaze. Milford Flat Fire near 330,000 acres with afternoon winds and thunderstorms on the way. By Judy Fahys and Christopher Smart. The Salt Lake Tribune

Update July 12. Radioactive radiation rises from Milford Flat Fire. Cause unknown. By Judy Fahys and Christopher Smart. The Salt Lake Tribune

Update July 12. Crews contain 40 percent of 350,000-acre Milford Flat Fire. By Greg Lavine. The Salt Lake Tribune 

Note that most of these”early” fires are primarily range fires, not traditional forest fires. Range fires often move much faster than forest fires, and so they are more likely to overtake those who don’t flee fast enough.The size and frequency of range fires has been growing. Much of the change is due to the spread of non-native “cheat grass,” with which most interior Westerners are all too familiar. This fine-bladed grass begins to grow from the early summer’s seeds as soon as late summer, and they produce a lush swath of green grass in the spring. However, here is the “cheat.” By the next June (and with drying and warming climate, now as early as May 1) the cheatgrass has ripened, died, and is ready to generate a new wildfire that will regenerate the cheatgrass while the now-too-frequent fires eliminate its competition. Cheatgrass has changed the fire ecology of the West. The result is much for the worse for almost every human activity and for wildlife and plants.

I think a major public policy initiative is needed to stop its further spread and reclaim some of the country it has taken over. I have it on my property. It is very hard to get rid, other than temporarily, although it is slowly outcompeted by other plants if there is no fire.

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