Utah Guard Revisits Coal Hollow Fire Area to Survey Burn Scars

By Ileen Kennedy | June 20, 2019

On June 19, 2019, a beautiful morning with blue sky and sunshine, the Utah National Guard flew a UH-60 Black Hawk, with key observers on board, to view the burn scar left from the Coal Hollow Fire in 2018 on Loafer Mountain, located at the south end of Utah County.

Major General Jeff Burton, the adjutant general for the UTNG; Allan Matheson, executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality; Joshua Emfield, deputy director for Congressman Curtis; Larry Ellertson, advisor to Congressman Curtis; Don Summit, engineer with UTNG Construction Facilities Management Office and other members of the UTNG were onboard the flight. 

“It is really good to get a birds-eye-view and see what that burn scar looks like,” said Matheson. “It was a devastating fire, but it did leave a mosaic of living trees that will help provide seeds for the regeneration of that forest.”

The aircraft made multiple passes along the base of the mountain, up and down Loafer Canyon and across the ridgeline, allowing those onboard to view the area from different directions. The fire seemed to follow a path, leaving a mixture of standing, fire-burned trees nestled in areas with patches of living trees. The rainy spring weather provided a lot of precipitation for ground-level grass and foliage to take root, helping to keep the soil in place.

“We have many constituents who have been concerned with the fires aftermath and what will happen with the potential for floods and mudslides,” said Joshua Emfield, deputy director for Congressman Curtis.” We wanted to see an aerial view to be able to understand how much of a concern we are really facing for constituents and what are some of the problematic areas. The flight was very informative so we could understand that there is actually a lot of green foliage throughout and I’m glad to see we’ve had enough rain to kind of subside those risks.”

Many in the state are concerned with the potential for a large debris flow to come off Loafer Mountain to the cities below. Homes in Elk Ridge, Woodland Hills, Salem, Covered Bridge and other communities could be at risk for potential flooding and mudslides.

“We are in the process of attempting to help those who fear that they’re going to have damage and be in danger because of the burn,” said Larry Ellertson, advisor to Congressman Curtis. “It’s good to be able to see it and better understand what is there, so as we talk with them we talk with a knowledge base. The cities are obviously concerned. They are looking at building some retention basins to catch the debris flows that would come off of the mountain.”

UTNG Soldiers are prepared to help with expertise and equipment. Soldiers are being trained on non-standard missions to help utilize the best practices for protection of lives and property in the event of a flood, mudslide or debris flow. The UTNG has jersey barriers and trained Soldiers on the proper use and placement of the barriers. The Guard has also prepared and staged equipment in the affected areas cutting down on deployment time to reach the areas needing it.

“The plan is to be prepared,” said Don Summit, an engineer with the UTNG’s Construction and Facilities Management Office. “We are moving people and equipment and staging things so if we do have issues come up, we are prepared, and it doesn’t take us a lot of time to respond.”

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