Prevention measures helped cut Utah wildfires this season

Sep 18 2013 - 10:14am

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Paradise firefighters Dave Bigelow, left, and Casey Snider work to put out a wildfire in Blacksmith Fork Canyon, near Hyrum, Utah on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Paradise firefighters Dave Bigelow, left, and Casey Snider work to put out a wildfire in Blacksmith Fork Canyon, near Hyrum, Utah on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)

SALT LAKE CITY - The 2013 fire season in Utah was calm, compared to 2012, despite a couple of larger fires in August, the state's director of Natural Resource said.

Michael Skyler, whose agency has supervision for forest, fire and state lands, told a legislative committee Tuesday the 2013 fire season was a marked improvement from

2012, when 1,542 wildfires destroyed just short of a half-million acres in the Beehive state. There were 1,272 fires reported this season, Skyler said, but only 25 of them burned more than an acre of land.

The number of human-caused fires is also down significantly, the state leader reported. He said numbers as of Sept. 7 link 32 percent of blazes in the state to humans, while 50 percent of the fires in 2012 were caused by humans.  Approximately 68 percent of the fires during the 2013 season were caused by lightning, Skyler said.

Skyler said pro-active measures including the replanting of more than 1 million acres of state land with grass that stops fire in its tracks, had a significant impact on limiting the impact of fires this season. He said the state's investment of $6.8 million in fire suppression measures was money well spent.

"Our return on investment saved millions. We're finding a way to minimize these catastrophic fires," Skyler told lawmakers.

Even with good news about the number of fires, state forester Dick Buehler has suggested all is not well on the fire front for Utah.

Buehler told lawmakers earlier this year forests in Utah are in the worst condition he's seen in his 30 years of service.

Buehler said there are implications in not letting nature do its thing and in living in the second-driest state in the United States. He said development also has increased the danger of fires.

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