State fire officials concerned as they consider wildfire season outlook

Jun 10, 2024, 6:43 PM

SALT LAKE CITY State fire experts say Utah is at risk of having a devastating wildfire season this summer and pleading with Utahns to be proactive.

“Let’s be smart about what we’re doing and keep Utah safe this summer,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

Multiple state fire agencies gathered with Gov. Cox at This is the Place Heritage Park Monday to give an outlook on Utah’s wildfire season. Their collective message – Utah is primed for a dangerous wildfire season, and while the entire state is at an elevated risk, northwest Utah has them particularly concerned.

“Between the grass growth and the early hot temperatures, it has us concerned as fire managers of what we could see,” said Chris Delaney, state fire management officer for BLM Utah.

Thanks to two years of above average snow fall and moisture, Utah’s fuel load is bigger and thicker this year. And with the already hotter-than-normal temperatures in early June and experts predicting less rain this summer, that fuel load is quickly drying out.

Lead meteorologist with Predictive Services at the Great Basin Coordination Center Basil Newmerzhychy speaks as he joins with Gov. Cox and other officials to bring awareness to the potential of fires during a press conference at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

“This year, unlike the last two years, the monsoon is expected to be not as prominent, it’s always around Utah, but maybe instead of raining 35 days, it will rain 12 days, in any event that kind of delay in the monsoon will have the potential to keep the fire season going longer in areas across Utah,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, meteorologist with the Great Basin Coordination Center.

Already this year, Utah has had 189 wildfires, 156 of them have been human-caused. Fire managers said the biggest mistake they see people make leading to these types of fires is complacency.

“A simple mistake could cause a lifetime of consequences for firefighters, for residents, for the habitat for the wildlife, we would just ask take an extra second before you go out to your public lands,” Delaney said.

Be proactive

Fire managers are asking Utahns to be proactive about preventing wildfires and keeping firefighters safe; make sure campfires are completely cool before leaving a campsite, target shoot in designated areas and don’t use exploding targets, maintain vehicles and tires, and avoid dragging tow chains. They also ask that you check UtahFireInfo.gov before recreating this summer – so you know where fires are burning and what areas are at high risk.

“Mostly, I ask that you keep these guys (firefighters) safe, we want every one of them to be able to go to their families, they’re going to do whatever it takes to protect the lives of people and the next to protect property where they can, but we don’t want to put them in that situation,” Cox said.

During Monday’s news conference, several fire managers asked Utahns to look at their homes and cabins and work on creating defensible space so that in the event of a wildfire the structure is better protected. Defensible space also allows more time to evacuate in the event of a fast-moving fire.

“Really what we’re talking about is a lot of the ignitions that occur to the homes are because of embers that come up to a mile or more from the main body of the fire, so really that defensible space is buying you time,” said Chris Milne, assistant chief with the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Milne said homeowners looking for a defensible space assessment on their property can visit slcfire.gov/wildfire. Many local fire agencies are willing to provide the same assessment, if homeowners reach out.

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State fire officials concerned as they consider wildfire season outlook