St. George climbers help extinguish wildfire believed to be started by fireworks

Jul 9, 2023, 10:34 PM | Updated: 10:38 pm

SOUTHERN UTAH — Southern Utah Climbers are recounting the moments they jumped into action to stop a wildfire started by somebody else. The group quickly find out how that fire likely started because of evidence left behind in the hillside.

Brent Flaherty and Tim Mijal, both climbers living in St. George, explained how a group was meeting up in the Utah Hills area Sunday, at a spot up a dirt road off the Old Highway 91 about 45 minutes outside St. George.

As the two pulled up the road, their buddy came zooming down to tell them there was a fire and he had called the fire department. Mijal could see smoke up ahead. They continued up cautiously and came across the smoldering fire that had charred an entire hillside.

They said another friend of theirs had already gotten to work with a rake and shovel to try to put it out by pulling up two-and-a-half to three-foot diameter trees that were on fire.

“We just started kind of walking around up the hillside and pulling smaller stuff and like regular trees that we could carry out. They were on fire,” Flaherty explained.

Mijal could feel the heat emanating from the ground, realizing that whatever started the blaze had chewed up the entire hill.

“We just worked together to get some of the bigger ones out,” Mijal said, of the logs and trees. “And then folks with shovels tried to just smother what they could.”

As they got one area under control, he described how flames and smoke would pop up somewhere else. 

We didn’t really have everything we needed to kind of deal with it, although we tried to get kind of the bigger things that were burning, out of there,” he said.

Flaherty’s shoes began to melt under the heat.

As they worked to smother the apparent wildfire and wait for the fire department, the group came across boxes of fireworks sitting on the ground, near a stack of pallets.

“There’s like a stack of 15 or 20 in like a bundle or something like that. And those were kind of sitting near the palette,” Mijal explained. He and Flaherty said they also found a lighter sitting next to the fireworks.

They’re guessing the people lighting off fireworks saw something spark and took off. They’re thinking the fire burned through the night up the hill but didn’t crest the hillside or jump across the road, so it stayed contained to that one area.

They said the fire department showed up and took care of it from there. KSL TV reached out to Washington County Sunday, but was not able to get any more information on the fire or efforts to contain it.

Flaherty and Mijal said the group was still able to enjoy a good day of climbing after working to put out the fire.

Considering the area is remote and not visible from Old Highway 91, the two are glad they came across the fire and that their entire group tried to stop it.

Especially for an area they say climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts often use and enjoy.

“It’s a really special place, you know, and for it to burn would be a real tragedy,” Flaherty said. “I was just grateful… it’s contained, you know, it didn’t go all the way up to the cliff.”

They’re hoping anyone heading outdoors understands the danger of activities like lighting off fireworks, is cognizant of where and when it’s appropriate to light off fireworks, takes care to prevent fires, and reports any problems.

“Think really critically about where you’re going to do it, first of all, and then if you do start a fire, call somebody,” Flaherty urged. “Don’t just run away thinking you’re going to get in trouble.”

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St. George climbers help extinguish wildfire believed to be started by fireworks