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Unified Fire Authority prepares for wildfire season in Utah

Matthew McFarland, the public information officer for the Unified Fire Authority, speaks at Station 127 at Camp Williams on Thursday April 29, 2021. McFarland stayed at the station while some of his his colleagues participated in training for the upcoming wildfire season.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Unified Fire Authority (UFA) is preparing for the wildfire season in Utah by training. Camp Williams was booming Thursday with activity as wildland firefighters trained to put out fires. 

Wildland firefighters prepare 

UFA spokesman Matthew McFarland said firefighters can’t waste any time getting ready.

“This time of year, they are out there doing field exercises. They are getting to know their equipment. We are doing check-offs on the fire engines … and they are out there talking about tactics,” McFarland said. 

Utah on track to meet or beat warm weather records

Crews started fires to only put them out, dug trenches and even performed back-burning, which is used in controlled burning and during wildfires.

McFarland said firefighters train all winter to stay in shape, then come back before fire season to practice their skills and teach the new firefighters.

Wildfire season in Utah 

Fire season has already started in southern Utah when officials issued an early wildfire warning Thursday in anticipation of warm weather over the weekend. 

“We do have concern, and we want the public to be very aware that there is fire potential statewide this year,” said Kait Webb, a representative with Utah Fire Info.

McFarland said it could end up being a busy season for their wildfire crews with all the small fires reported so early in the year.

“We are not so far away from the season, and these incidents could get big enough where they need more resources than a structural fire department can handle. That’s where these guys come in,” McFarland said. 

Last year, UFA asked people to stay away from the Neffs Canyon Trailhead as crews fought a 60-acre fire burning near Mt. Olympus. Gusty winds and dry air contributed to fuel the fire, but crews were quick to put it out in days. 

 “The public has a very crucial role to play in wildfire prevention. They have a direct influence on how busy our wildfire season is.” Webb said.

Spark The Change

According to the Utah Hazard Mitigator, the state is susceptible to three types of wildfires: ground fires, surface fires and crown or canopy fires. Additionally, Utah is one of the most wildfire-prone states in the nation; there are 800 to 1,000 wildfires annually.

In 2019 Utah’s wildfire agencies responded to and suppressed 706 wildfires this season. And 92%, of the fires were extinguished before they grew to 10 acres.

 Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands said the fires were sparked from target shooting to equipment issues. At least eight wildfires in March were reportedly caused by target shooting. The other five were started by exploding targets.

UFA is inviting people to “spark the change” by taking the Wildfire Prevention Pledge and promise to follow firefighting guidelines.