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Huge spike in human-caused fires as fire season starts in Utah

FILE -- Bountiful Gun Range Fire Photo: Colby Walker | KSL Newsradio

SALT LAKE CITY – Firefighters across Utah are warning about a huge spike in human-caused fires as they prepare for an above-average fire season in the state. 

Utah’s state forester Brian Cottam said during a virtual news conference on Tuesday that people have started the overwhelming majority of fires so far this year, and the number of fires they have had to put out has also grown. 

“Already this year in this state, all lands, we’ve had 237 wildfires. That’s compared to 67 last year at this time. That’s a four-time increase in the number of fires, and 95% of them are human-caused,” Cottam said. 

About 67% of all fires last year were human-caused. 

Firefighters are also worried because it has been so dry recently. Utah is also predicted to have a warmer than normal summer. 

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend agreed that human-caused fires are a problem and pointed to some close calls they had over the weekend. 

“Over Memorial Day weekend, we had well over a dozen campfires that were abandoned that our folks put out. So, the public taking care to put out their fires, to not do things that will cause fires is going to be very key,” Whittekiend said. 

Every agency at Tuesday’s news conference say they will continue to reduce fuels and clear brush, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s unlikely they will do controlled burns this year because of the hot and dry weather. 

Cottam also pointed out the financial cost of all these human-caused fires. 

“None of these fires need to happen. And so, all of the costs, all of the expenses that we pay through our tax dollars: federal government, state government and, yes, local government; they don’t need to happen,” Cottam said.