Fire officials are deploying all the usual prevention tools to blunt what’s expected to be an especially dangerous 2021 wildfire season, but their appeal for public support is bigger than ever.
Gov. Spencer Cox and interagency fire officials this week launched “Fire Sense,” a public service campaign hopefully leading to driving down the number of human-caused fires.
In the Ogden area, the Weber Fire District is seeking grant funds to finance catastrophic wildfire mitigation in the Uintah Highlands area, site of a devastating blaze in 2017.
And Weber district and Ogden Fire Department officials say residents should expect possibly extended fire restrictions this year.
Propelling the wider prevention efforts is Utah’s deepening drought, with 100% of the state in drought and much of it in the severe or extreme ranges.
In a normal fire season, dry grasses are one of the main dangers. But in 2021, not only are those a concern, but larger vegetation such as oak, pine and sage is also uncommonly dry.
“Those heavier fuels are even drier than normal and easy to ignite,” Ogden Fire Marshal Kevin Brown said Friday. “Oaks and pines can burn rapidly and are really a high risk.”
City crews borrowed a chipper shredder from Box Elder County firefighters to help clear an area near the Trackline development in West Ogden this year, Brown said.
“We try to take one or two projects a year where there is a lot of undergrowth,” Brown said, adding that a new trail in the Trackline area portends increased traffic this season.
Similar work is underway in the Weber Fire District in places where wildlands surround developments and pose a threat, said Capt. Rick Cooper, the district’s fire warden.
So-called defensible areas around homes are being pushed in the Durfee Creek area of Liberty and developments in the Nordic Valley and Causey Reservoir areas, Cooper said.
Like Ogden firefighters, the Weber district too is alert to the danger of larger vegetation, which Cooper said likely will have very low moisture content by late season.
In firefighter lingo, the worrisome vegetation are 10-hour and 100-hour fuels, signifying the extended burning times, compared to rapidly consumed grasses.
New to the Weber district’s arsenal is a 3,200-gallon capacity tender truck that crews can drive close to a wildfire for added water capacity. The district already has two smaller tenders, Cooper said.
The district also brought on some seasonal crews a month earlier than usual. Further, the district will be placing more signs in the county warning people of the extreme fire dangers, according to Cooper.
Fire restrictions may be more extensive this year in Ogden and the Weber district, the officials said. For instance, Brown said it’s likely that Ogden’s restrictions this year will run deep into October because long-term forecasts indicate dangerous conditions will persist.
State and federal officials said that so far this season, all but eight of 227 wildfires statewide were caused by humans.
Utah in 2020 suffered a record 1,143 human-caused wildfires, the bulk of the statewide wildfire total of 1,482.
“We are on track to break that record again if we don’t see a significant change in public behavior,” the Fire Sense campaign announcement said.
Officials urged residents to follow these recommendations:
- Don’t drive over or park on dry vegetation. Brakes, exhaust and dragging chains can quickly ignite grass fires.
- Keep campfires small. Never leave them unattended, have plenty of water available and drown the fire when you’re done.
- Controlled burn permit holders and target shooters should follow all safety guidelines and heed red flag warnings, and avoid proceeding with activities on windy days.
- Fireworks are prohibited on all public lands. People should use them only on legally allowed dates and in allowed areas.
“When you’re out recreating or doing whatever, think before you act,” Cooper said.