Utah Fire Seasons Getting Longer, More Expensive

Nov 13, 2018, 4:42 PM | Updated: 8:12 pm

As firefighters in California continue to battle some of the worst fires in state history, fire managers in Utah are tallying the numbers on a very destructive and costly fire season in our state.  A close look at the costs shows Utah fire seasons are also getting longer and more expensive.

Jason Curry with Utah Forestry, Fire and State Lands said they usually catch 98% of wildfires before they reach ten acres.  This year..

“More fires went big,” he said.

On par with 2012, when wildfires burned more than 400,000 acres statewide.  This year: 386,000 acres burned, far greater than the seven-year-average of 135,000 acres.  Curry said, more intense fires burned in heavier fuels this fire season.

“Not only are those fires more dangerous,” said Curry.  “They’re a lot more expensive to fight.”

Dollar Ridge Fire burning by Hwy 41 in Aug. 2018

The seven-year average for Utah’s firefighting costs is $50 million annually.

“This year will be around $150 million. So, three times the cost,” he said.

A lot of the added expense comes from fighting fires in heavier timber and steeper terrain, said Curry.  The state will pick up $35-$40 million of that cost, the national forest service and BLM pay the rest.  Fires also destroyed nearly 90 homes, the greatest summer for property loss in decades.

Here’s another telltale statistic, according to Curry: a fire was reported somewhere in the state every day from May 14th through October 2nd.

“That tells you how busy it was,” said Curry.  “That’s pretty non-typical. We’ll usually have a little bit of a break, several days where there are no fires throughout the state.”  But, not this summer.

Across the state, dry fuels persist. Utah just has not had anywhere near average precipitation over the past year. If a fire started in a grassy area, it could take off. Fortunately, Utah doesn’t have the Santa Anna winds that they’re dealing with in California.

“We don’t have the type of winds, and the type of temperatures and the type of relative humidity that would really drive extreme fire behavior in Utah right now,” said Curry.

But, be cautious: fire season lingers in the extreme drought.

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Utah Fire Seasons Getting Longer, More Expensive