With local forests and open lands teeming with lush vegetation after a generous wet winter, the stage is set across Tooele County for a summer possibly filled with wildfires. Area fire officials and public land managers are urging citizens and visitors to help prevent the county from turning into a fire bomb by mid July.
And we hope their words of caution don’t go unheeded.
For example, in last Tuesday’s edition, Tooele County Fire Warden Dan Walton explained in a front-page story that “beyond normal” fire conditions exist because excess plant growth is drying out at an alarming rate from hot, windy weather.
His words of caution are backed by the National Interagency Fire Center, which predicts the wildfire season in Utah could hit hard around July 1. And that date mostly pertains to open lands involving valleys and foothills. As residual snowpack continues to disappear, causing a later-than-normal vegetation growth boom at higher elevations, the fire season in the mountains could run later.
“People need to be careful not to do anything that could cause a spark,” Walton said. “Even the green grass will burn hot and spread quickly.” The fire warden also stressed that 90 percent of wildfires in Tooele County are caused by people and not lightning.
The growing concern over human-caused wildfires also prompted the Bureau of Land Management to take action. In last Thursday’s edition, a story announced a fire prevention order regarding year-round and seasonal fire restrictions had been reissued for all BLM land in Tooele County and four other counties in Utah.
BLM’s year-round restrictions include fireworks, exploding targets, tracer and incendiary ammunition, sky lanterns or similar devices, and operating off-highway vehicles without spark arresters.
Seasonal restrictions, which apply June 15 through Sept. 30, prohibit the use of steel-core, steel-jacketed or steel-tipped ammunition. A key provision of the order also extends to possession of fireworks and exploding targets.
Like Walton and the fire agency, BLM officials are worried hot temperatures and strong winds are quickly drying out vegetation across the West Desert. Erik Valdez, acting BLM West Desert District Fire management officer, said outdoor enthusiasts should use caution when recreating in the West Desert during the dry summer months. They should also keep water, a shovel and fire extinguisher nearby.
Summer wildfires are well known in Tooele County. In recent years, we’ve had some big ones, four of which come quickly to mind: the Patch Springs wildfire of 2013 that nearly destroyed Terra on Johnson’s Pass; the Stockton wildfire of 2014 that threatened the entire town and temporarily destroyed its water supply; the Pine Canyon wildfire of 2014 that resulted in evacuations; and last summer’s July 19 inferno in Tooele City that destroyed 11 homes, damaged 17 and cost more than $1.3 million in damage and initial recovery costs.
Of those four major wildfires, Stockton and Tooele City’s were caused by arson.
We mention those four incidents to remind everyone about the sudden, destructive force wildfires possess. With mountains, canyons and the West Desert filled every weekend with campers and recreationists, the chance of human-caused wildfires is a serious threat no one should ignore.