Brian Head, UT – A southern Utah wildfire that burned over 71,000 acres in June also led to the discovery of illegally constructed cabins and underground bunkers with weapon caches, authorities said on Thursday.
As the fire roared near the ski resort town of Brian Head on June 27, firefighters heard “popping sounds” that they initially believed to be rocks exploding from the intense heat, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO) said in a press release.
When the popping continued for about five minutes, the firefighters realized they were actually hearing the sounds of ammunition exploding in the wildfire’s flames.
Firefighters hiked to the general area of the noises as conditions became less volatile, although the wildfire was not contained at the time.
They came upon a burned-down cabin, and found a room dug into the ground nearby.
When the firefighters realized the bunker contained explosive powder, modified hand grenades, fuses, and ammunition, they decided to photograph the scene and contacted law enforcement.
According to the press release, the ICSO coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Washington County Bomb Squad, the FBI, and the Utah State Highway Patrol in order to address the threat and to identify a possible suspect.
Investigators interviewed a Parowan man at his residence on June 30.
“During the interview the person was cooperative and eventually admitted to officers the bunker and burned-down cabin were his,” the press release stated. “The person further told officers he has approximately seven or eight such cabin structures and bunkers hidden throughout the area; and that most are supplied with food-storage, firearms, and ammunition.”
Investigators said the man built the structures over a period of thirty years on public land managed by the USFS and on land owned and managed by the Utah State Institutional Trust Land.
“He did it just for the end-of-the-world type predictions,” Iron County Lieutenant Del Schlosser told KSTU.
The identity of the Parowan man has not been released.
“The cabins had been constructed using concrete footings, at the four corners of the cabin, to which the structure had been anchored, and also had a corrugated metal roof, a metal stove and chimney,” the press release read.
Some cabins contained bunk beds, food and water storage, ammunition, reading material, and comfort items.
“The person responsible for the cabins, bunker, and storage caches is cooperating with investigators and has accompanied investigators to each of the locations, described when they were constructed, and what was stored at each location,” authorities said in the press release.
Bomb technicians at the first known cabin site “destroyed several hand grenades and a significant quantity of black powder” at the location, investigators said.
Authorities said the investigation into the man’s illegal buildings and caches is ongoing.
Findings will be presented to the Iron County Attorney and to the Utah United States Attorney’s Office for possible charges.