Utah saw a lighter fire season despite severe drought conditions, state firefighters say

Jan 26, 2022, 12:42 PM | Updated: May 21, 2023, 4:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Catastrophic fires raged across the West and despite severe drought conditions, Utah managed to come out of last wildfire season in good shape.

That’s what state fire managers shared with the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

They say it was a light wildfire season in 2021 based on numbers showing a big drop in human-caused fires – an indication that Utahns are finally getting the message.

Utah had fewer wildfires in 2021 despite record drought

As wildfires popped up last spring during extreme drought, Gov. Spencer Cox called on Utahns to pray for rain.

State fire managers launched a campaign of their own urging Utahns to adopt preventative measures.

“I think people started taking precautions when they were recreating. Making sure their chains were secure, “ said Jamie Barnes, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land director.

Of the 1,100 fires reported, 570 were human-caused. That’s a 62% reduction – meaning 900 fewer fires compared to 2020.

“Everyone wants to say I’m not going to be the person that causes a wildfire, but it can happen,” said Barnes.

2021 Utah fire report details 

  • 1,131 total wildfires 
  • 63,792 acres burned 
  • 99 consecutive days with a new start 
  • 922 fewer human-caused wildfires than 2020 
  • 93% of wildfires were caught at 10 acres or smaller 
  • 23 in-state & 91 out-of-state fire assignments for our Lone Peak Conservation Center crews 

Fire managers saved the state money as well.

They budgeted $50 million to fight fires and ended up spending a little more than half — $27 million — for the fiscal year. That left approximately $31 million left for fire suppression costs. Barnes said they were also able to send more of their fire personnel to help their neighbors battle wildfires.

Will that good fortune carry over in 2022? Barnes said it’s hard to say right now. January hasn’t produced much moisture.

“We’re concerned people cannot let their guard down this year. We still have the potential to be very dry.”

You may remember, there were fire restrictions put in place across the state that also contributed to fewer fires. But Barnes says it’s not the norm to do restrictions, and they don’t want to resort to that measure this season.

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Utah saw a lighter fire season despite severe drought conditions, state firefighters say