The two most common ignition sources for wildfires in Tooele County come from vehicles and target shooting, according to Tooele County Fire Warden Dan Walton.
He said fires result from chains dragging from vehicles, tire blowouts and hot catalytic converters and exhaust systems parked over dry grass. He said wheel bearings will overheat and lug nuts or other metal parts will fall off vehicles and cause fires.
Walton said wildfires are also started from target shooting. Exploding targets, tracer ammunition, incendiary rounds, and ricochets from steel-core ammo can spark fires when people are out target shooting.
“Even glass left over from target shooting will magnify from the sun and start a fire,” Walton said.
“Wildfires are not very common in the winter, but they do happen,” he added. “Causes of fire in the winter are usually not too different than what we see in the summer. Out here in Tooele County, we have a lot of very fine dead or dormant fuels. You would be surprised at how fast these fine fuels can dry out with just a few hours of sunshine.”
The warden said dry weather is a factor in the winter.
“The dry weather combined with an ignition source can create a massive wildfire in a short amount of time,” Walton said.
“One example would be a fire that we had near Faust in January 2016,” he added. “There was six inches of snow on the ground and the upper parts of the sagebrush were exposed and dry. An indeterminate ignition source resulted in a 100-acre burn scar by the time local resources had the fire contained.”
Walton said a few other sources of wildfires are unattended campfires or charcoal briquettes, cutting or grinding metal, power lines, trains, lawnmowers and chainsaws.
The fire warden said he and the Tooele County Sheriff’s Department are seeking to educate the public about fire prevention.
They have installed two billboards in Lake Point and two more on Interstate 80 with messages about fire prevention.
“We also posted eight mobile billboards on trailers out in remote parts of the county where recreation and accidental fires are common with wildfire prevention messages on them,” Walton said.
“We see a few fires each year caused by kids playing with matches or fireworks, but it is not a huge amount compared to the overall number of fires we see each year,” Walton said.
Meanwhile, Tooele City Fire Chief Bucky Whitehouse reports that children playing with matches is a concern.
“The past two years, these types of fire have been outside fires rather than structure fires,” Whitehouse said. “In 2016, we had a fire started by kids playing with a lighter that burned approximately 10 acres.”
The fire chief said his department responds to three-to-five structure fires each year from people burning candles.
“Fires have started from people leaving candles unattended inside the house or candles being placed near combustible materials,” Whitehouse said. “During the holidays our calls for service typically increase. Our calls range from inside fires and more car crashes because more people are out on the road for the holidays.
“We also see an increase in weather-related events that we need to respond to,” Whitehouse said.