So far, so good: No big wildfires in Utah County this summer

2013-08-03T00:25:00Z 2013-08-12T15:00:53Z So far, so good: No big wildfires in Utah County this summerPaige Fieldsted - Daily Herald Daily Herald
August 03, 2013 12:25 am  • 

Fireworks season has come and gone, the hottest month on record in Utah has passed and still there have been very few severe wildfires, especially in Utah County.

By Aug. 1 last year the Dump Fire had burned more than 5,000 acres in Saratoga Springs, the Quail Fire had scorched 2,200 acres of mountainside in Alpine and the Wood Hollow Fire had destroyed 52 homes and more than 45,000 acres in southern Utah County and Sanpete County.

By comparison, the 2013 fire season has been extremely quiet. Only a handful of small fires have broken out in Utah County, and most of them have been contained in less than 24 hours. No evacuations have been necessary.

Tracy Dunford, fire management officer for the division of forestry, fire and state lands, said that last year's severe season may be playing a role in this year's season.

"I think at least in part it is due to the fact that it is on everybody's mind. They remember how severe last year was, and they are being a lot more careful," Dunford said. "We have also had a break with the weather. We have these periodic storms that come in and bring a little bit of precipitation; especially compared to last year, it is a lot wetter than it was."

Kathy Jo Pollock with the U.S. Forest Service said the weather has played a big role in keeping fire danger down in the higher elevations. This summer, the humidity had been higher than normal and almost all the thunderstorms have come with precipitation, meaning there isn't the danger of dry lightning to start fires. Pollock said that in addition to favorable weather conditions, the public has played a big role in keeping fires to a minimum this year.

"We really, really appreciate the public's help for being extremely aware and making sure their campfires are out, not using fireworks on public lands and ATV riders are staying on the roads and trails," Pollock said. "The public is being extremely responsible."

Although the majority of summer has passed, the fire danger isn't gone. Dunford said there are still plenty of hot, dry days ahead and plenty of chance for fires to start and spread quickly.

"We are not out of the woods yet," Dunford said. "We are still expecting hot, dry, windy weather and that means the potential for fires to start and to get big fast and be hard to put out."

Dunford also said that because Utah has had a fairly quiet season, most of the wildland fire crews are out of state fighting other fires, leaving Utah in a vulnerable position.

"If it gets busy here we have to rely on what we have now," Dunford said. "And if it gets really busy, we'll have to start prioritizing and doing some triage and putting resources where we need them the most. What we have now is pretty much what we are going to get. If we needed hotshot crews and aviation help, we have a very limited number of those types of resources."

Dunford said people need to continue using common sense when dealing with anything that could start a fire. He said that anyone planning to burn weeds or other debris will need a permit and that people make sure all equipment has the proper spark arrestors.

Pollock said that if you build a campfire make sure it is out completely and cold to the touch before leaving it unattended.

"That means even at night. A lot of times people will leave campfires smoldering and go to bed, but you could get a wind that could put some sparks on into the finer fuels like grass and start a fire," she said. "Make sure any fire is cold to the touch at night and as they leave their camping spot."

Pollock said there are no fire restrictions in place on Forest Service land and Dunford said there are very few in place throughout the state. Residents can check for updated fire restrictions and conditions.

-- Paige Fieldsted covers robberies, burglaries, murders and any other crimes and court cases happening in Utah County. Follow Paige on Twitter at @paigefieldsted.
Read more from Paige Fieldsted here.

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