Fire potential rises with fireworks
Warning: Governor says parched state is a 'tinderbox'
It was fire and fireworks warnings all around from a group gathered Wednesday on a typical hot, dry Utah summer day.
"The bottom line here is, fire kills and fire destroys property," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said at a press conference, surrounded by homes perched above parched foothills in Salt Lake City.
Huntsman talked about how people are more laid back when the weather turns warmer. "Typically in the summer months people just aren't on high alert," he said.
The governor recalled last year's fire season scorching over a half-million acres in Utah.
"We lost lives and we lost significant property because of carelessness," he said. "The state remains a tinderbox. And make no mistake about it, there are some very dangerous parts of the state."
Some of those areas are in Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National forests, overseen by forest supervisor Brian Ferebee. He said lightning is still the big worry, along with arson, lit cigarettes carelessly tossed aside and campfires that only appear to be out but which can reignite with wind or under a hot sun. Ferebee said people should take the extra step of putting some water on a fire before they break camp.
Washington County, including Zion National Park, is the first large area in Utah to impose a sweeping fire restriction with only a few exceptions. That sole restriction surprises state lands director Dick Buehler.
"By this time last year we had a number of fires statewide," Buehler said. A wet winter and moist spring have helped conditions, along with what he said is a more safety-conscious public. In California, with dozens of active fires this week, it's a different story.
"It's their turn this year to really burn," he said. "Hopefully, it's not our turn."
No one, including state fire marshal Ron Morris, wants a firecracker to change that.
"If you did not buy your fireworks in Utah, please, do not light them in Utah," Morris said.
Fireworks are illegal in Utah if they shoot in the air higher than 15 feet or travel on the ground farther than a 10-foot circumference.
Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Scott Duncan said troopers will be out prior to July 4 and July 24, Utah's Pioneer Day, looking for people slipping in and out of Wyoming with illegal fireworks. "We encourage our citizens not to do that and to buy fireworks in our state," he said.
The penalty for possessing or lighting illegal fireworks can result in up to six months in jail or up to a $1,000 fine for each piece of contraband. Someone who is determined to be the cause of a fire may actually be forced to pay the cost of fighting the fire.
Utah Division of Air Quality director Cheryl Heying also issued a warning Wednesday that fireworks can add to poor air quality, which can cause health problems for certain people."Traditionally, the air monitors record high concentrations of fine particulate pollution associated with fireworks displays after the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day," Heying said in a statement. "Those most impacted by the unhealthy air pollution are young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with respiratory problems."
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