Officials say the Utah 2023 wildfire season was “normal”
Aug 30, 2023, 1:30 PM | Updated: 2:52 pm
(Utah Fire Info)
SALT LAKE CITY — The end of August typically means that wildfire season is winding down, and for the most part, it’s seemed like a “light” year for wildfires in Utah. They have burned less than 14,000 acres across the state.
Still, Brett Oslter, fire program manager for the Utah Division of Forestry said this has been a normal fire season.
“What I would say was heavy was 2017, and 2012. I mean we’ve had some heavy fire seasons. Last year and this year we would just consider normal.”
The largest Utah fire this year, so far, was the Thompson Ridge fire near Beaver which burned about 7,200 acres. That fire is contained, but Ostler said it will probably keep burning until the first snowfall.
One of the biggest factors adding to fewer wildfires in Utah in 2023 is a reduction in the number of human-caused fires.
“I want to put a plug in for Fire Sense,” Oslter told KSL NewsRadio. Fire Sense is a public information campaign designed to educate Utahns about wildfire prevention.
We put Fire Sense into place three years ago and in doing so we’ve reduced the number of human-caused fires in the state tremendously.”
And there was good sense behind that public information campaign. Ostler refers to human-caused fires as budget busters. As of publication, there have been 247 human-caused wildfires this season in Utah.
How is a fire season in Utah rated?
Utah wildfire officials use the state’s preparedness level to determine the severity of the season, as well as how ready they are to fight wildfires.
“We really don’t base it off of acreage. We base it (the fire season) off of preparedness levels,” he said. “And when we don’t have resources left in the state, we increase the preparedness level.”
Ostler says that thanks in part to the moisture the state has seen lately, the state’s current preparedness level is two.
“We just went to two, because of the moisture we’ve received in the great basin and the burning components, and the energy release components.”
A new financial plan to fight Utah wildfires
It’s helpful that the Utah Legislature has started putting money aside to help with firefighting efforts.
“This is the first year that we have had general fund appropriations for that (firefighting),” Ostler said.
We’ve always just had to kind of rely on leftover money to help fight fire, and it’s got us by. But the number of fires that we continue to have has got the attention of the legislature and they’ve had to dedicate some money to go into that fund to pay for it.”
And the money isn’t just used for wildfires.
“That money stays in what we call the wildfire suppression account, and they can use that money for other needs as they see appropriate.”
“They did take some money out of the fund to pay for snow removal because the snow removal account went into the hole. The Division of Emergency Management has the opportunity to use some of those funds, as well, if we have earthquakes, natural disasters, (or) when we have wind that comes through and knocks down a bunch of trees. They can dip into that account to use those funds to help with some of the emergency cleanup.”
And if there’s money left in the account? It stays there, waiting for whatever snow, or fire, or wind, comes to Utah next year.