Ask an Expert | Prepare Now: May is National Wildfire Awareness Month | News, Sports, Jobs

Brad Washa, assistant professor of wildfire science at Utah State University Extension, on fire response duty.

May is designated as National Wildfire Awareness Month by organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Western Fire Chiefs Association. The month is designed to promote prevention and preparedness efforts in communities and areas prone to wildfires.

As the weather gets warmer, the vegetation in the forest or the fuel starts to grow and later dries out, increasing the risk of wildfires. For this reason, spring is the best time to prepare for wildfires.

Much of Utah is fire dependent, and many Utahns live in an area known as the wildland/urban interface, or WUI. Simply put, the WUI is where “the leaves meet the leaves.”

Those who choose to live at the wilderness-urban interface should take shared responsibility to evaluate and implement fire protection concepts around their homes and properties. Without mitigation measures, wildfires remain the most likely and potentially dangerous natural disaster facing many Utah communities, with the potential to result in loss of life and property and have significant economic impacts.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, a national, collaborative, area-wide approach to wildland fire management, is applicable to Utah. The approach aims to reduce wildland fire risks and increase resilience by focusing on three areas: 1) fire-adapted communities, 2) fire-resilient landscapes, and 3) safe and effective wildland fire management efforts. The strategy includes stakeholder collaboration, risk sharing, and results-based investments across jurisdictions.

Consider these resources to protect your home from wildfires.

  • Assess the wildfire risk to your property and community using an online assessment such as the Utah Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal or the Wildfire Risk to Communities tool.
  • Request a structural assessment from your local fire department, your county fire marshal, or the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
  • Learn about the National Fire Protection Association's Home Ignition Zone for removing and managing materials and vegetation around your home.
  • Read the USU Extension publication “Utah Firewise Landscaping” for recommendations on appropriate plants for your home if you live in the WUI.
  • Instructions on how to create an action plan and assemble an emergency kit in case an evacuation is necessary can be found on the Ready, Set, Go website.

Because Utah experienced good winter precipitation and snow and a relatively mild and wet spring, forecasts indicate that there will be no significant wildfire activity in early summer. However, as the summer progresses, areas with tall grass growth may experience above-average, significant wildfire activity as fuel rods dry out. Northeastern Utah is listed as particularly at risk in the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July and August.

As we observe National Wildfire Awareness Month, the time to prepare for future wildfire events is now, not when smoke is on the horizon. As we enter wildfire season, we should embrace the vision of a cohesive strategy: extinguish fires safely and effectively when needed, use fire only where permitted, conserve our natural resources, and learn as a nation to live with wildfire.


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Anna Harden

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