Fire department investigators are looking into a string of suspect brush fires, while north Utah County city officials are tightening their fireworks restrictions.
The first fires ignited in Herriman and Bluffdale in Salt Lake County. Next were three fires in Cedar Valley and another in Highland — all in Utah County.
Tuesday, a suspicious brush fire in Tooele County fed by 35 mph winds destroyed 10 homes in a mobile home park in the city of Tooele and left dozens of people homeless. Several other homes and cars were damaged.
“These fires are under investigation. They’re highly suspicious, but we won’t tie them together,” Unified Fire Authority Officer Taylor Sandstrom said.
Two local fire chiefs went on the record, saying the fires appeared to be intentionally set. For that reason, Utah County firefighters could use the public's help preventing more fires during the upcoming holiday weekend.
“Use extreme caution when using fireworks this weekend,” said Lone Peak Fire Chief Brad Freeman.
He said to check local city websites to see what the current firework restrictions are.
Alpine has new firework restrictions, and Highland and Cedar Hills may be coming out with new restrictions before Pioneer Day celebrations on Sunday and Monday, according to Freeman.
Investigators are asking anyone who wants to report suspicious activity or a tip on who caused the fires to contact Unified Fire through its website, unifiedfire.org, or through the Utah and Salt Lake county sheriff’s offices.
Freeman is calling the Highland Glen fire that erupted Saturday an intentionally set brush fire.
“It was going pretty good because the winds were high and the grass was so tall,” he said Tuesday.
Because of the wet spring, there is a generous amount of weeds and grasses that, with the hot, dry weather, have turned to ripe tinder.
The Highland Glen fire was reported at approximately 11 p.m. and, unlike the other suspect fires, was away from the highway. Four fire trucks responded to the scene and Freeman estimates the fire burnt an acre.
“It was backed in there,” he said of the location.
His Lone Peak crews have seen six fires already this month, a few from fireworks used illegally.
“Remind them that any fire they start, they have to pay for,” Freeman said of the firefighting expense.
Cedar Fort Fire Chief Nyle Jacobsen said at least four of the fires appear to have the same modus operandi.
“All were along the highway, so it gives them some time to get a fire started before someone comes,” Jacobsen said Tuesday during a phone interview.
At about 2 p.m. Saturday, three fires were lit within 20 minutes of one another — in south Cedar Fort, west Fairfield and at Five Mile Pass.
“They need to quit doing this. It’s expensive,” Jacobson said of arson-caused firefighting costs.
With the Tooele fire, it’s become not only expensive, but now there are victims.
Alpine Mayor Sheldon Wimmer, a former state fire manager for the Bureau of Land Management, said the concern heading into the Pioneer Day weekend isn’t so much the fireworks as the fire load.
“What the public needs to know is the fire field areas are drier now and we want to protect people from those dangers,” Wimmer said.
Immediately after the Fourth of July, Alpine relaxed its fireworks policy excluding parks from fireworks and allowing more residents to shoot fireworks on city property. Two weeks later, more modifications for fireworks restrictions have been made.
“It’s really not that much different if you look at the two maps,” Wimmer said of the “before” and “after.”
He, like Freeman, thinks the dry weather, the wind, the fire load and the heat all combine into high fire danger.
“We are getting anxious for the 24th because fire conditions are extremely dangerous — high temperatures forecasted, dry conditions, winds forecasted, heavier fire load than usual, and then fireworks,” Freeman said. “It’s funny we have to light fireworks at the worst time of the year.”
Cedar Fort has a long history of celebrating the Pioneer Day holiday with a rodeo and other town activities, including a town-wide water fight scheduled for Friday.
Jacobsen is planning on enjoying his community’s annual event through the weekend.
“As long as the arsonist stays out of our town, yes,” he said.