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Earthquake danger in Southern Utah? Fault lines near St. George, Zion

Signs of earthquakes are everywhere in the geology of southwestern Utah.

Placed right where the mile-high Colorado Plateau falls off into the corrugated Basin-and-Range landscape that dominates neighboring Nevada, the desert lays bare the lines of rock and tell-tale straight lines of large faults.

Geologists are busy studying the ways they’ve shaped the area’s past — and how they might impact the future.

The fault was near the epicenter of the area’s largest earthquake of the recent past, a 5.8 magnitude event recorded in 1992 that shook residents across the county and did damage as far away as Springdale, where a landslide destroyed several homes and forced the closure of the highway leading into Zion National Park.

Such an earthquake today could pose a major danger to some of the area’s older buildings, and with today’s population nearly three times as large and with many more homes built atop cliffsides or beneath rockfall areas, the potential for damage is greater.

There is speculation the Washington Fault might actually merge at some point with the much larger and more studied Hurricane Fault, which follows a parallel line to the east.

Members of the Washington County Search and Rescue team investigate a canyon along the Hurricane fault line in Warner Valley to the east of St. George in this Spectrum file photo. The Hurricane Fault, believed to be the largest in southwestern Utah, suggests the area could see a large earthquake at some point.

There, the Hurricane Cliffs are the visible product, rising thousands of feet in places and creating the rainbow-colored scenery of Cedar Breaks and the Kolob District of Zion.

The best guess today is a magnitude 7 earthquake or larger could hit the Hurricane Fault, said Tyler Knudsen, a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey who has studied and published multiple papers on faults in southern Utah.

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