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Utah’s spring wildfire conditions have officials concerned for wildfire season

FILE: A wildfire burns in the foothills near the University of Utah, forcing the evacuation of two homes in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 14 2020. Officials are warning 2021 could bring an especially active wildfire season. Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah fire officials are spreading the word about Utah’s already dangerous wildfire conditions, well ahead of wildfire season.

They said the above average number of wildfires this spring show how dangerous conditions already are, well ahead of the typical start of wildfire season.

Wildfire conditions already concerning

The following facts come from the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

  • 185 wildfires and 6,360+ acres burned statewide (as of May 4).
    • Well above the average for this time of year compared to previous years.
    • All but 3 starts (2%) have been human-caused so far this year.
  • Cause categories:
    • Trends over the past 10 years: equipment, debris, campfire and miscellaneous (fireworks, firearms, cutting welding & grinding)
    • 2021 trends: debris, equipment, campfire and miscellaneous (fireworks, firearms, cutting welding & grinding)
    • 9 firearms related starts already which is high for this time of year. The normal state total each year for firearm related wildfire starts is in the teens, but last year Utah experienced more than 50.

Officials also say there are also worrisome drought and fuel conditions.

  • More than 99% of the state is in drought, and 90.20% of the state is in extreme drought.
  • Fire managers have been observing fuel moisture levels and fire activity often seen in June and July.
  • Soil moisture is extremely low, which increases fire danger. The number of spring fires and acres burned highlight how dangerous conditions are now.
  • Snowpack peaked 10 days early at 81% of average (as measured by NRCS). Peaking early means the runoff won’t be as effective, as less water runs into rivers and streams.

What you can do

There are steps the public can do to help prevent wildfires. 

  • Target shooting: Be aware of current weather and fuel conditions, especially Red Flag Warnings. Use safe ammunition and targets and find an appropriate backdrop void of rocks and vegetation. Have a shovel and water or a fire extinguisher ready and with you
  • Exploding targets: Only use in legal areas, exploding targets aren’t allowed on most public lands. Never use near dry vegetation.
  • Campfires: Keep fires a manageable size. Never leave a fire unattended. Properly extinguish campfires using the Drown, Stir and Feel method.
  • Equipment: Whether you are working, recreating or traveling be aware that any equipment can cause a fire. Be mindful of your surroundings. Maintenance of tires, brakes and exhaust is a simple and crucial preventive measure. Never park on or drive over dry vegetation
  • Debris burning: Make the proper notifications. Be aware of current and predicted weather and fuel conditions. Plan to suppress the fire if needed.
  • Be aware of conditions and act accordingly:
    • Check for fire restrictions.
    • Watch for Red Flags Warnings.
  • Pay attention to ongoing and upcoming predicted wildfire weather and fuel conditions.

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