Forest Service crews work to reopen roads affected by fires in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area

“If we don’t do it under these better conditions, we could lose all of it,” said Mark Atwood

U.S. Forest Service fire crews are working diligently to reopen roads and trails affected by three fires in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area of the Manti-La Sal National Forest before the bow hunting season begins this Saturday, August 17. 

As some crews continued monitoring and mopping up the boundaries of the nearly 4,000-acre Peavine Canyon Fire and the nearly 1,500-acre Poison Canyon fire, others shifted their attention to a new fire 17 miles west of Monticello.

The Chippean Fire began due to a lightning strike near the Chippean Rocks on Causeway Road August 6. After clearing work completed by fire crews over the weekend, it has grown to over 230 acres.

“This was a good day’s work,” Incident Commander Jon Shaffer said. “We cleared out large patches of manzanita under manageable conditions, and we spared that part of the forest the negative effects of a hotter, more intense fire.”

The Chippean Fire incident team is now focused on a vast stand of ponderosa pine that forest managers consider vulnerable to a high-intensity fire because the area underneath is densely cluttered with pine needles, branches, and other vegetation.

Fire crews will ignite the low-lying fuels and keep flames to manageable heights so the fire can slowly and methodically consume accumulated debris.

“We hope to achieve appropriate long-term resource benefits on this part of the forest, which we’ve previously identified as needing treatment to protect,” said Mark Atwood, a fuels specialist for the forest.

“If we don’t do it under these better conditions, we could lose all of it,” he added. “Once we lose a stand like this, it won’t come back in our lifetimes.”

Chippean Fire incident team public information officer Sandy Nelson explained that although high-intensity fires are not good for the forest, low-intensity fires, like the ones in the Dark Canyon Wilderness this year, give crews an opportunity to help nature clear some of the low brush that has overgrown the forest.

She said the crews’ clearing action is a big part of maintaining forest health because it “allows more sunlight and rainfall to reach the ground and the charcoal from the fire returns many nutrients back to the soil.”

Nelson said that due to years of overgrowth, fire needs to be reintroduced into the Manti-La Sal National Forest, carefully, thoughtfully, and methodically when the opportunity arises, as it has this year.

“If we had allowed fire to burn for the last 100 years the way it naturally would,” she explained, “you might have had some high-intensity fires in places, but you would have had a lot fewer of them because natural fires would have cleared out a lot of the fuel that has accumulated.

“Sometimes people see areas in the forest that have been burned, and it upsets them,” Nelson stated. “But fire is a natural thing and is a big part of forest health as long as it doesn’t get out of control or become a danger to humans or animals.”

Information about road and trail closures in the Manti-La Sal National Forest is available online at

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