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AM News Brief: Navajo Nation COVID, Saddle Fire & Zion National Park

Photo of Zion National Park entrance.
Zion National Park entrance

  Friday morning, May 15, 2020


Federal CARES Money Headed To University Students

Public universities throughout Utah and the country received money as part of the federal CARES Act, an economic relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Institutions, though, are required to disburse half of that funding to students. Utah State University is divvying up more than $8.7 million for people enrolled there. Eligible students at USU should begin to receive money this week. At Dixie State University, officials are planning to disburse $3 million of federal funding to students in early June. Read the full story. Jessica Lowell

Utah Moves To Yellow

Most of Utah will move to the yellow, low risk phase of its pandemic response — except for Grand, Summit and Wasatch counties — and Salt Lake and West Valley cities. The change for the rest of the state goes into effect just after midnight on Saturday. Under the yellow phase, schools are still closed and health officials are encouraging wearing a mask in stores. However, drivers education classes will resume, travel around the state is starting to open back up and the size limit for social gatherings goes from 20 to 50 people. Pools can open, but people on the deck must stay six feet apart. Team sports can return, but only with proper safety measures. — Sonja Hutson

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.


Navajo Nation Ravaged By COVID-19

Utah is reopening, but the coronavirus is still ravaging the Navajo Nation, where cases are rising by around 100 per day. And hospitals in the region are filling up, according to healthcare workers in Monument Valley, who said patients who need hospitalization are arriving every day. The infection rate on the Navajo Nation is 12 times higher than that of the state, and the death rate is 30 times higher. The infection rate on the reservation is expected to peak in late May. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Zion National Park Opening

Zion National Park is open again, with restrictions, after being closed because of coronavirus concerns. The park is open during daylight hours, but the visitor shuttle system is not operating. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to vehicles as parking allows. Some areas remain closed, such as The Narrows, because of high river flow, and the chains section of Angels Landing is closed for improvement. The entire Kolob Canyons section is also off-limits. Other trails have been closed for months because of damage from rockfall and flooding or are being repaired. They include Lower Emerald Pools and the Weeping Rock area trails. Officials said hiking is allowed, but people must remain on established trails, and cross-country travel is prohibited. — Diane Maggipinto

Flash Flood Victims Identified

The two young sisters who died in flash flooding near Goblin Valley State Park are identified as 7-year-old McKinzley and 3-year-old Elexia Graff. They were hiking with their mother and uncle in Little Wild Horse Canyon when a storm blew through Monday afternoon. Their father was waiting at the trailhead parking lot and saw McKinzley as she was swept downstream. He tried to resuscitate her, but she died at the scene. Elexia's body was found the next day. — Associated Press

Fire Conditions

Red flag conditions could emerge by the early next week for the lower half of Washington County that is part of the Mojave Desert fire weather zone. It'll be windy out of the southwest starting Sunday afternoon, through Tuesday. The National Weather Service says the strongest gusts and sustained wind will be Monday, at 15 to 25 mph, gusting to 35. Low humidity and dry conditions mean fire could ignite easily, though the latest drought monitor map released yesterday shows the area that surrounds St. George has no discernible drought. — Diane Maggipinto


Saddle Fire 75% Contained

The Saddle Fire near Midway is about 75% contained. The wildland blaze has burned almost 700 acres, and investigators believe it was arson. A juvenile is suspected of starting this and a few more in the area over the last several days. Wasatch County sheriffs said the adolescent was taken into custody earlier this week. This morning, fire crews moved to a Type 4 response with hotshots, engines and helicopter assist. Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday night and residents were allowed to return home. The Dutch Hollow Trail System and two others at Wasatch Mountain State Park are still closed. — Diane Maggipinto

Missing Teens Recovered From Utah Lake

The bodies of two teenage girls who went missing on Utah Lake May 6th have been recovered. The Herald Journal reported that the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team recovered the bodies of 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski and 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez Thursday afternoon. A fisherman found one body near Lincoln Beach. About three hours later, the second body was discovered by a search and rescue plane flying over Goshen Bay. Search and Rescue crews were hampered by winds and rough weather. A storm moved in quickly May 6th, making the water choppy and dangerous. Sheriffs believe the teens were not wearing life jackets while floating on the lake in pool toys. — Diane Maggipinto


Mountain West Wildfire Camps

Many parts of our region are predicting a higher than average fire season. Battling the flames during a pandemic won’t be business as usual. Camps for firefighters tackling large blazes can’t always be avoided, but there are some things that can be done to help. Attacking fires more aggressively from the early stages so they don’t grow out of control or moving technical support folks to a remote location are some ways regional firefighters are planning to deal with fire season.— Maggie Mullen, Mountain West News Bureau

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