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State firefighters concerned about wildfire season forecast

SALT LAKE CITY According to Utah fire experts, there is a risk of a devastating wildfire season this summer. They are calling on the people of Utah to act proactively.

“We should be smart and make sure Utah is safe this summer,” said Utah Governor Spencer Cox.

Several fire departments across the state met with Governor Cox at This is the Place Heritage Park on Monday to provide an outlook on Utah's wildfire season. Their common message: Utah is facing a dangerous wildfire season, and while the entire state is at increased risk, northwest Utah is of particular concern.

“With the grass growth and early hot temperatures, we as fire managers are concerned about what we might see,” said Chris Delaney, BLM Utah state fire manager.

Thanks to two years of above-average snowfall and moisture, Utah's fuel supply is bigger and thicker this year. And with temperatures already hotter than normal in early June and experts predicting less rain this summer, that fuel supply is drying up quickly.

Basil Newmerzhychy, senior meteorologist with Predictive Services at the Great Basin Coordination Center, speaks as he joins Gov. Cox and other officials to raise awareness of the fire risk during a press conference at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City, Monday, June 10, 2024. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

“This year, the monsoon is not expected to be as strong as the last two years. It is always close to Utah, but it may rain only 12 days instead of 35. In any case, such a delay in the monsoon could cause the fire season to last longer in parts of Utah,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, a meteorologist at the Great Basin Coordination Center.

There have been 189 wildfires in Utah this year, 156 of which were caused by humans. Fire managers said the biggest mistake people make is that lead to these types of fires Is Complacency.

“One simple mistake could have lifelong consequences for firefighters, residents, habitat and wildlife. We simply ask that you please take a moment before entering your public lands,” Delaney said.

Be proactive

Fire officials are asking Utah residents to be proactive in preventing wildfires and keeping firefighters safe. Make sure campfires are completely cool before leaving a campsite, shoot at targets in designated areas and don't use exploding targets, maintain vehicles and tires, and avoid pulling tow chains. They're also asking you to check UtahFireInfo.gov before you look for a trip this summer — so you know where there are fires and which areas are especially at risk.

“More than anything, I ask you to keep these guys (firefighters) safe. We want each of them to be able to go to their families. They will do whatever it takes to protect people's lives and protect property where they can. But we don't want to put them in a situation like this,” Cox said.

During Monday's press conference, several fire officials urged Utahns to check their homes and cabins and create shelters so that the structures are better protected in the event of a wildfire. Shelters also provide more time to evacuate in the event of a rapidly spreading fire.

“We're actually talking about a lot of home fires being caused by embers that are up to a mile or more away from the main fire area. So that defensible space actually buys us time,” said Chris Milne, deputy chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Milne said homeowners who want a wildfire zoning assessment on their property can visit slcfire.gov/wildfire. Many local fire departments are willing to provide the same assessment if homeowners contact them.

Anna Harden

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