Local firefighters are busy preparing for another busy wildfire season, but they hope it will be far less flame-filled than last year.
Teresa Rigby, fire information officer for the Bureau of Land Management, said Utah in general hasn’t recovered from last year’s drought.
“Our meteorologists tell us a hot and dry trend in southern Utah is predicted again this year and it may move north,” she said. “If we get that same hot and dry period, that’ll really affect our fire season. The fire season really depends on what happens within the next month.”
Tom Wilson, Tooele County fire warden, said local fire departments are in the midst of preseason training, prepping for the start of the official wildfire season on June 1.
“It’s definitely that time of year where the wildfire season is in the forefront of our minds,” he said. “Everyone is starting to do more thinking about the possibilities of wildfires.”
Rigby said the BLM’s seasonal firefighters started work this week and are also busy training.
“Last year we didn’t have time to do much training or refreshing, because we were dealing with fires before the season started,” she said. “Hopefully this year we’ll have time to train and make sure people are ready to go.”
Wilson said Tooele County’s wet spring has delayed any serious fires from starting, but that hasn’t kept human error from causing a couple of quarter-acre or smaller blazes.
“We had a small fire out on SR-73 a couple of weeks ago that was caused by a catalytic converter on a vehicle,” he said. “That caused a small fire on the side of the road. We also had a fire out at Blue Lakes [south of Wendover] last week and there was no lightning in the area, so we know it was human caused. That’s still under investigation.”
Wilson said even though the wet spring has helped, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any large wildfires early on in the season.
“The wet spring has delayed the curing process of those fuels that carry the fire,” he said. “The green-up phase of the fuels has lasted a little longer, which has allowed them to get taller and more continuous. When it does dry out, there will be more fuel available to burn.”
Wilson said if there isn’t much lightning this summer, then there will be less fires, but he is concerned about human-caused fires. Rigby said because Tooele County has a lot of recreational opportunities, the county generally has a high occurrence of human-caused fires each season.
“Tooele County also has a lot of wide, sweeping valleys full of cheat grass and things that ignite easily,” she said. “It’s the perfect combination of factors to set us up for human ignitions. Hopefully the awareness of the problem of human-caused fires from last year will carry over. It makes a big difference.”
In addition, Wilson said he’s already seen a problem this year with campers leaving their campfires unattended before they are completely out. In the last two weeks, fire personnel have found three unattended fires that could have caused more serious problems if they weren’t discovered. One was found in Soldier Canyon and the other two were in Middle Canyon.
“It’s fine to have fires in approved areas, but you should be able to put your hand on the fire and leave it there for one minute without burning yourself,” he said. “That means it’s safe to leave. It’s important to remember that you can only have campfires in approved areas.”
Rigby also emphasized that during wildfire season in Tooele County, it’s a good idea for residents to be prepared.
“It’s a good idea to take extra steps, like carrying a shovel, fire extinguisher and water, with you,” she said. “You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you’re always prepared.”
Last year, a total of 80 fires — exactly half human-caused and half lightning-caused — burned 75,000 acres at a cost of an estimated $3.5 million in Tooele County alone. The largest fire of the summer, the Dallas Canyon fire, charred 43,660 acres in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area in July.
In August, the Faust fire burned a total of 22,045 acres about five miles south of Terra in the Onaqui Mountains. In September, Tooele County’s third-largest fire, the Shanty Canyon fire, burned 3,098 acres on Stansbury Island.
Some of the other notable fires that occurred during the summer include the 727-acre Flood Fire, which burned in Flood Canyon near Pine Canyon, and the Ibapah fire, which burnt 1,630 acres just east of Ibapah before being contained.