KSL INVESTIGATES

KSL Investigates: Vital Tool Helping Fight Future Wildfires

Apr 28, 2021, 10:12 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — It’s only April and more than 155 wildfires have already scorched the drought-ridden parts of Utah.

Kaitlin Webb, the statewide prevention and fire communications coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands said 98% of those fires were human-caused.

“Only three of those have been natural cause,” she explained.

It’s a troubling continuation of last year’s record for human-caused fires: 77% of nearly 1,500 blazes started from things like sparking equipment, target shooting and fireworks.

Almost all of Utah is in a severe drought, which means wildfire officials are on alert and preparing for what could be a busy and dangerous fire season.

“As far as fire danger and our concern for that potential for wildfires, it’s statewide this year,” said Webb.

Aside from hoses and helicopters, Utah has another powerful tool to stop the flames: a map of fires from 1999 through 2020.

“Historical fire data is something that we rely on for pretty much everything that we do in some capacity,” explained Webb.

By mapping previous fires, they can better prevent future fires.

“If we’re seeing consistent fires in the same area,” said Webb, “we can take a look at what’s causing them. That gives us a platform to start problem-solving, figuring out how to prevent those in the future.”

Aside from tracking trends, Webb said they can look back at this historical data to help them fight current fires and figure out where they might have already laid suppression lines.

“We can take a look at the past and see how fire moved through an area, and that can guide our suppression tactics in the present, how the vegetation is there, so you know how to react. You’ve seen fire move through that area before, so you know the most effective way to suppress it,” she said.

If a wildfire sparks in an area without historic fires, Webb said that could mean big, dangerous fires like the Dollar Ridge Fire.

“If an area hasn’t seen wildfire in a long time, or there hasn’t been any sort of mitigation efforts in that area, fuel loading is a big factor,” she said. “If we have really thick, dense vegetation, fire is often going to burn at a much higher intensity in that area.”

Remote areas and inaccessible areas can also contribute to bigger, harder-to-control blazes.

Webb elaborated that in some spots where there are multiple fires over multiple years, people’s behaviors seem to have the biggest impact.

“You’ll sometimes see a lot of little fires in a certain area, and that probably has a lot to do with recreational activities or human influence in that area,” she said.

That includes hot spots like Stansbury Island, which has had 17 fires over the last two decades. It’s an area popular for target shooting.

The Tabby Canyon Fire sparked from an exploding target last year and burned nearly 7,000 acres.

Other areas that show overlapping historic fire data include the west side of Utah Lake near Saratoga Springs, and east of Santaquin, where the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires ravaged more than 100,000 acres in 2018.

Webb said factors like fuel load, weather and people all affect those hot spots. The latter, Webb said, is the biggest key to prevention this summer.

“The public needs to engage and play their part in terms of fire prevention and making sure that we’re reducing the total number of sites we have,” Webb said. “We can have a direct influence on how busy our wildfire season is.”

When it comes to preparing resources for fire season, Webb said priority goes to areas where there would be the most potential for loss of lives and real property.

Fire season doesn’t officially start until June 1 in Utah, but the state has already seen its first red flag warning, indicating the potential for a busy summer for wildland firefighters.


Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

What are the rules for airline travel credits?

After canceling a beach vacation to Hawaii, a Utah woman believes she has $1,400 in flight credits. Ongoing flight cancellations have plagued the summer travel season, and a lot of travelers are being made whole with flight credits rather than refunds.
1 day ago
FILE PHOTO - Shown are a smartphone and computer....
Matt Gephardt

Can a company pull the rebate runaround?

When a West Valley City woman took up Verizon on a rebate offer to upgrade but could not get the rebate, she contacted the KSL Investigators for help.
7 days ago
FILE PHOTO...
Daniella Rivera

KSL Investigates: How is Utah’s new self-defense law impacting justice?

Is a new Utah self-defense law improving our justice system or leading to unintended consequences? The KSL Investigators analyzed a full year of cases.
8 days ago
...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Utah home sellers drop asking prices as market slows from a frenzied pace

For years, Utah has been one of the nation's hottest real estate markets, but now it appears to be cooling as sellers are slashing prices.
8 days ago
FILE (Getty Images)...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Gephardt Busts Inflation: How you can save money by switching from one of the big three wireless carriers to an MVNO

We have all heard of the big guys of wireless networks - Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. But many smaller carriers use the same infrastructure as the big three and for you that means you can get the service you need for much less by switching to one of the other guys.
11 days ago
FILE...
Matt Gephardt

Utah regulators take action against store they say failed to deliver furniture or refunds dozens of times

Imagine paying a deposit for expensive furniture only to have the company vanish before you get your stuff. It happened to several Utahns and now, the store has been cited by the State of Utah.
12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
...
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...
AARP Utah

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
KSL Investigates: Vital Tool Helping Fight Future Wildfires