Despite wet spring, wildfires are still a danger this summer

wildfire
Smoke billows from a field fire.

This is the first article in a series on public safety issues for our area.

The advent of spring and warmer weather in South Utah County conjures up memories of last year’s summer. And we can’t think of last year’s summer without thinking of the devastating wildfires that impacted all residents in large and small ways.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “a total of 1,314 wildfires were reported in Utah last year, burning nearly 486,000 acres.” Most of that acreage was in our backyard here in South Utah County and resulted in over $100 million in losses and costs.

And now, several months after the fires have been extinguished, the impacts on fish, wildlife and their habitat areas are still being seen.

Communities were forever changed by the Pole Creek, Bald Mountain, and Coal Hollow fires that ripped through our area. The outreach and support felt as families were evacuated from their homes and hundreds of firefighters risked their lives helped our community grow stronger together. However, no one wants a repeat of last year.

Fire hazard in the area will likely be high again. We’ve had a wet spring, causing extra grass and weed growth. This is all well and good; however, if we have a dry and abnormally hot summer like last year, all of that dry material will become a problematic fire risk.

George Hansen of the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol reminds us that most of the south Utah County communities are adjacent to open mountain areas, making them susceptible to forest fire: “So much of the underbrush was destroyed [last year], leaving exposed soil to heavy rains or spring water runoff that it would be easy to have flooding in communities like Covered Bridge, Woodland Hills, and Elk Ridge.”

We can all play a role in implementing what we learned last year to make sure this year’s fire season is better. “People don’t normally focus on preparation for a disaster or negative incidents until they are forced to. Last year showed that people need to be more vigilant,” Hansen says.

Hansen cautions against becoming complacent in these things, explaining that we all need to be “more conscious about our environment, the hazards that are around us and our home. When recreating outside, pay attention to things that could lead to potential disasters.”

Leann Fox, the communications and prevention coordinator of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands shared some helpful suggestions on the wildlife.utah.gov website:
• Stay on legal roads and trails to avoid impacting any habitat restoration in burn scar areas that have been reseeded.
• Never drive or park over dry grass or brush. Exhaust systems and other vehicle equipment can get hot enough to start fires.
• Because many of Utah’s wildfires are started by vehicles on highways, make sure your vehicle maintenance is always up to date and make sure there is no loose or dragging equipment.
• Be extra cautious when target shooting.
• Always keep your campfire small and clear the surrounding area of any flammable material. Always fully extinguish your campfire before leaving an area.
• Before burning debris on your property, you must have a permit and should check weather conditions.
• Fireworks are illegal on all state and federal lands so do not use fireworks anywhere except in designated areas and seasons.