SALT LAKE CITY – As summer approaches, the number of people recreating outdoors is on the rise – as is the threat of fires on public lands.
This is especially true this year due to the persistent severe drought in the state and region. In fact, during his monthly PBS Utah news briefing on Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox warned of the potential for drought to extend into wildfire season.
âLet me say unequivocally, guys, this is really bad. It’s as bad as it has been,â Cox said of the dry conditions in Utah. âWe need everyone to understand now that we are heading for one of the worst droughts and potentially the worst fire seasons that we have seen, and we have seen bad ones.â¦ The severity of the situation really depends the weather. It’s out of our control. “
About 90% of the state remains in an “exceptional” drought, and all parts of the state experience drought conditions even after a few recent rainstorms, according to the US Drought Monitor. The summer months of June, July and August are also traditionally the driest months at least in northern Utah.
Cox declared a state of emergency due to drought conditions on March 17. It’s an order that the Utah Legislature extended in a special legislative session on Wednesday. Drought affects every aspect of life in Utah, but it’s also a factor in the Great Basin Coordination Center’s fire season outlook maps.
It should be noted that Utah was not listed as an above normal fire threat by the agency until early May, when central Utah fell into this category. . Most of central and northern Utah are expected to present above normal fire threats by June and July. This is in addition to the many warnings of conducive fire conditions that have been issued this year in southern and eastern Utah.
Meanwhile, there had already been 232 wildfires in Utah this year as of Thursday morning, according to the Utah Wildfire Dashboard, which is a joint venture between the Bureau of Land Management and the Division of Land Management. forests, fires and lands of the State of Utah. The fires so far have been relatively small, with an average of around 36 acres burned per fire so far.
The most disturbing statistic is that at least 95% of the fires this year were determined to be man-made. Man-made fires have been linked to all but three of the 8,399 acres burned in the 2021 fire season, according to the Dashboard.
The number of fires Utah has already experienced this year exceeds the normal tally in late May and early summer, according to state land officials.
Cox urged the Utahns to check the fire restrictions before starting any open burning, to ensure that chains that could be attached to their vehicles do not drag around and that people who target the fire. do in areas where it is permitted. These are just some of the many ways a man-made fire can ignite.
“We need everyone to be especially careful,” he said.
New BLM fire order in place adds to growing list in Utah
Given all the fires and fires that have already occurred this year, efforts began early to ban certain activities on public lands that could trigger forest fires. For example, Cox spoke about the issue a day after the Bureau of Land Management announced a new statewide fire prevention order that went into effect immediately.
The ordinance prohibits the use or discharge of explosive materials or explosive targets, fireworks or steel component ammunition on any land managed by the office. About 42% of the state falls into the category of land managed by the BLM.
“This annual fire prevention order reminds people to be careful in reducing the number of man-made forest fires, especially given this year’s extreme drought,” said Greg Sheehan, director of BLM state in Utah, in a statement.
The order states that anyone who violates it can be fined up to $ 1,000 and one year in prison, as well as a high bill for the cost of suppressing the fires if their actions result in a fire. forest.
It is also the latest order in addition to a growing list issued for Utah public lands this year.
Utah State Fire Management Officer Brett Ostler has signed a proclamation extending “closed fire season” for counties in southwest Utah from June 1 to May 1. Kane and Washington counties one month earlier than usual, unless proper permit is obtained.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also issued an executive order this week banning building fires or campfires outside of developed rings or grates of fire and fireworks or firearms / incendiary devices without a valid permit on Navajo Nation lands, which includes parts of San Juan County.
Fireworks are currently banned in the state, but there is a brief window where they can be sold and launched in the summer. Cox said Thursday he would work “closely” with the state legislature to discuss any possible new restrictions on fireworks ahead of the Independence Day and Pioneer Day periods in July, where the fires fireworks can be sold and launched in the state.
âIt really depends on what the rains situation looks like before the fireworks season,â the governor said.