Utah wildfire season almost upon us

Jul 2 2011 - 10:27pm

The start of Northern Utah's wildfire season has been delayed by recent precipitation and unmelted snowpack, but conditions could quickly change as vegetation dries, federal and state officials say.

"A lot depends on Mother Nature and human causes (of wildfires)," said Susan Marzec, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management based in Salt Lake City.

Utah's wildfire season typically starts in early May, but rain and snowpack has delayed the danger, said Jason Curry, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

However, cheat grass, a potent fuel source that invades rangelands, pastures, deserts and other open areas, is just beginning to dry out and poses a threat along benches and property at lower elevations throughout Northern Utah, Curry said.

Cheat grass can catch fire at 500 to 600 degrees, Curry said.

An extremely wet spring has caused lush growth of cheat grass at lower elevations, while some vegetation at higher elevations remains covered in snow and may not begin to dry out until fall, when temperatures are cooler, lessening the likelihood of major wildfires, Curry said.

Northern Utah is expected to remain dry until Monday, when the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning at higher elevations begins and continues through the week, said Eric Schoening, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The thunderstorms aren't expected to produce a lot of rain initially, he said, but the chance of showers could increase toward the end of the week.

So far this year in Utah, 112 fires have been caused by people, destroying 2,839 acres; 37 lightning-sparked fires have burned 43 acres.

Because of high fire danger in southwest Utah and northwest Arizona, the Color Country Interagency Fire Center has implemented fire restrictions on all public lands and unincorporated state and private lands in Washington County.

Zion National Park is also restricting campfires in Watchman and South campgrounds in Zion Canyon, but will allow propane and gas stoves.

Fireworks of any kind are always prohibited on federal and state lands in Utah.

Individuals should check with their local fire departments for fireworks regulations in their community.

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