The wildfire at Stockton last July nearly wiped out the town, and then two weeks later, a wildfire at Pine Canyon nearly did the same. At both infernos — the first caused by arson, the second by lightning — residents were evacuated while firefighters worked to keep flames away.
Yet, thanks to firefighters’ skill and tenacity — and lucky breaks with the wind — not one home was lost in either community.
The summer before that, it was the Patch Springs Wildfire on the west side of the Stansbury Mountains that threatened four communities, caused evacuations, destroyed several buildings, and burned more than 31,000 acres. Utah’s largest wildfire of the year, Patch Springs incinerated everything in its path for two weeks before 400 firefighters from local departments and across the nation contained it. Aside from the thousands of scorched acres, the iconic Willow Springs Lodge was destroyed.
We mention these powerfully destructive wildfires because it appears the welcomed and generous rain that fell throughout May and early June is gone. In its place has come lots of sun, high heat and wind. All are key factors to transform green, moist vegetation into brown, dry kindling that can erupt at the slightest spark from lighting — or careless human hands.
After five weeks of steady to heavy rainfall, kindling may be plentiful across Tooele County. All of which has set the stage for wildfires to impact local lives and dominate headlines for the rest of the summer. In last Tuesday’s edition, the story “County on pace for ‘average’ wildfire season this summer,” suggests Summer 2015 may be nothing extraordinary in terms of wildfires. But then, no one could have predicted more than five inches of rain would fall during May.
In the story, Tooele County Fire Marshal Tom Wilson said despite the extra vegetation growth from May’s rains and anticipated hot days ahead, all indicators point toward an average fire season. But at the same time, Wilson explained that dead grass from last year is still underneath this year’s green grass — which suggests under extraordinary conditions, the wildfire hazard this summer may be more than just average.
And in today’s edition, there’s a story about the Bureau of Land Management issuing restrictions on all public land in Tooele County because of that hazard. The BLM issued a fire prevention order last Thursday that prohibits fireworks, exploding targets, tracer and incendiary ammunitions, and OHV vehicles that lack spark arresters. Steel-core, jacketed or tipped ammunition is also banned on public land from June 20-Sept. 30.
“With rising temperatures, the grass and brush in the West Desert are drying and fire risk is quickly increasing,” said L.J. Brown, West Desert District Assistant Fire Management Officer.
Because of the growing fire hazard, residents and visitors are encouraged to use extreme caution while venturing into the county’s mountains and outback this summer. While lightning caused wildfires are unpreventable, human caused ones are.
Wildfires are a fact of life in Tooele County. So too is lightning. But with fireworks season approaching fast, and area canyons and the West Desert filled every weekend with campers and recreationists, the chance of human-caused wildfires is a serious threat. The BLM is wise to issue its restriction now. For prevention’s sake, other agencies, the county and local municipalities would be prudent to do the same.