According to Utah Highway Patrol, a fire on July 4 along U.S. Highway 191 south of Moab could have spread quickly and forced closure of the road if it were not for the quick actions of some passing motorists. [Photo courtesy of UHP]

The quick thinking of good Samaritans prevented a brush fire from closing U.S. Highway 191 on July 4, according to the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP).

The UHP reports emergency personnel were dispatched to a brush fire at 4 p.m. near the La Sal Junction in San Juan County.

Fire investigator Heather McLean examined the fire burn area on the morning of July 5 and said it was human-caused. She said fire officials named the brush fire the Coyote Creek Fire.

Rafa and Hannah Ibarra, of Moab, were driving near mile post 104 with their two children, ages 3 and 5, when they saw the smoke from the Coyote Creek Fire.

“We thought maybe it was a truck’s brakes,” Rafa said.

The Ibarra family had made a “spur of the moment decision” to watch the holiday parade in Blanding and were on their way home. Rafa said that as they got closer to the smoke, they realized that it was a brush fire.

“There were no vehicles that had stopped yet,” Rafa said. “There was no way that we could keep going and not do something about it.”

The Ibarras were joined by two more good Samaritans and the four people managed to extinguish the flames and stayed at the scene until the La Sal Volunteer Fire Department arrived.

UHP Lieutenant Ty Roberts said, “If it was blazing, we would have had to shut the highway down.

“Some good Samaritans of this state and another state prevented something that could have been pretty major on the July Fourth celebration and we thank them for their quick thinking with what tools they had to put a fire out,” Roberts said.

“It was most likely started by a vehicle, but we don’t have the specific cause yet,” McLean said when making the initial report. “It’s still under investigation.”

Since May 31, approximately eight fires have been ignited by vehicles alongside highways in the Moab Interagency Fire Center’s dispatch area. The dispatch area includes Grand, San Juan, Emery and Carbon counties. The largest of the eight fires grew to 1 acre on Interstate 70 at mile marker 134.

San Juan Fire Warden Heber Heyder said the Coyote Creek Fire measured one-tenth of an acre.

Rafa said when they tried to report the fire, their phones could not make calls in the remote area. When Hannah’s phone suddenly picked up two bars of service, Rafa said they hurried to tell a friend to report the fire.

They told their two children to stay in the car.

“We just had a fire in Moab, right in our backyard,” Rafa said. “There’s a fire ban; it’s the Fourth of July, and we see this fire and we thought, no, this is not happening. We scrambled around the car trying to find something to use to put the fire out. We had two water cups and a small lunch cooler, and we thought, well, that’s our only option, that’s it.”

Rafa said the flames over the brush were four-feet high. He and Hannah decided to use the small lunch cooler to throw dirt on the fire, and soon two more people pulled over.

Stopping to help fight the fire was an oil field worker from Wyoming named Dean Martin, who was on his way to Farmington, New Mexico, Rafa said.

“We started throwing dirt on it, and Dean and the other man showed up at about the same time,” Rafa said. “Dean had a fire extinguisher and he nearly got it out. He used his entire fire extinguisher on it. Then it was back to throwing more dirt, until we killed the fire, and we finally did,” Rafa said.

They stayed at the scene until first responders from the La Sal Volunteer Fire Department, BLM and UHP arrived; Rafa said the fourth man helping to extinguish the fire left as soon as the fire department arrived and was not identified.

UHP Trooper Brian Evans was the first officer to arrive at the scene, and said, “(Dean) went around the perimeter and sprayed the fire extinguisher on it, and then they began to knock down the flames in the middle.”

“With these kind of conditions, we’re getting a lot more fire started by vehicles along the side of the road,” McLean said, referring to the region’s extreme drought and dry conditions.

McLean said that drivers should remember to check their vehicle maintenance before driving on the highways, and said that even a vehicle’s exhaust can start a fire on dry grass.

8 fires have been ignited by vehicles along southeast Utah highways since May