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In our opinion: Spread caution like wildfire

Published: Friday, Aug. 7 2009 12:09 a.m. MDT

Fire crews are dwarfed by flames as they fight a 2002 wildfire along the Virgin River in the southern Utah town of Washington.

Nick Adams, Associated Press

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According to the National Interagency Fire Center, Utah had 999 wildfires in 2008. Given the wet months of May and June this year, don't be surprised if the dry grass pushes the number to more than a thousand in 2009.

Still, Utah wasn't even among the wildfire leaders last year. California had 5,814 fires. Georgia had 5,454. And Texas ruled the roost with a whopping 16,713 wildfires.

Causes for such fires vary, of course. Some are started by lightning, some by arsonists. But the sobering truth is four out of every five wildfires are started by human beings. And most of those are ignited by human beings who are being, well, a little too human.

This year, National Wildfire Week will run from Oct. 4-11. But if past years are a barometer, by the time the week rolls around there will already have been hundreds of wildfires that could have been prevented.

For 50 years Smokey has been saying, "Only you can prevent wildfires." This year the message is the same. And as with drunken driving, smoking and other problems, the best way out of the wildfire predicament is through education.

So as the timber turns to tinder this month, here are several suggestions from smokeybear.com on what to remember as you head into the wild.

Don't park on dry grass.

Smoke only where you have a three-foot clearing in all directions.

Have a spark arrester on your ORV.

Know the fire regulations for an area.

Never pull burning sticks from a fire.

Never ignite fireworks in the wilds.

Store flammable liquids safely.

Never use stoves or lanterns inside a tent.

And inspect, inspect, inspect — upon arriving and upon leaving.

Anyone who doubts the need for such precautions has only to remember the Milford Flat wildfire of 2007. Gov. Jon Huntsman claimed it was the biggest fire burning in the world at the time. Before dying out, the fire consumed 363,052 acres. The scars — both on nature and on the emotions of Utah residents — still exist.

The sad fact is it could all happen again.

The good news, however, is, with thought and care by Utahns, it doesn't have to.

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