Early wildfire season means early fire restrictions in Utah

Published: Tuesday, June 12 2012 7:49 p.m. MDT

Members of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands of the Utah Department of Natural Resources head to the location of Monday's fire on the foothills above Centerville on Wednesday, June 12, 2012. Monday night's wildfire was sparked by target shooters, the latest of several fires caused by target shooting.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Campfires will be prohibited throughout the state beginning Thursday except in developed campgrounds, state officials announced Tuesday as crews continued to battle seven persistent fires.

And an increase in the number of fires started by gunfire has officials working to get the word out about the dangers of target practice during the hot, dry summer months.

The campfire restrictions come after representatives for the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands met Tuesday in an effort to mitigate the impacts of the early fire season.

“We usually have a fire restriction in place every year by the Fourth of July,” said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Forest Service. “What’s a little different this year is that the restrictions are being implemented so early in the season” 

Clark said the state is experiencing conditions conducive to extreme fire danger about a month earlier than normal. That's playing out every day somewhere in the state. In Utah County Tuesday, fire crews responded to small fires in Pleasant Grove and in Provo Canyon, knocking down flames before the fires grew out of control.

“We’ve got low humidity, we’ve got a lot of winds this year and we’ve got our heat factor way up and all the potentials for a wild land fire,” Utah State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay said. “Just like in Centerville, it’s so easy to start a fire this year because it’s exactly opposite of last year.”

A wildfire in Centerville Monday, along with nine earlier fires on the west side of Utah Lake, near Saratoga Springs, were all started as a result of people target shooting.

“Usually shooting guns isn’t a problem, until you get all of the factors that we have with the low humidity, the wind and no moisture in the fine fuels,” Halladay said. “It’s very easy, you hit a rock and a spark and you have a fire. People just need to use common sense.”

The number of fires caused by guns has some organizations discussing the possibility of restricting gun use in some areas, but Dick Buehler, the director of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said it isn’t likely.

“There actually is a state law that, and very rightfully so, that protects people's rights to possess and utilize guns legally,” Buehler said. “We do not have, as a state agency, nor do the counties, the ability to restrict shooting.”

Teresa Rigby, fire prevention specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, told the Deseret News last month that fires caused by firearms have become more widespread the past 10 years.

“It’s not always on people's minds because it hasn’t always been as prevalent as it is,” Rigby said. “There are a lot of places in the desert that are popular for target shooting that are hotbeds for wildfire.”

Buehler and Halladay said that Utah’s wildfires so far have been relatively mild, but there is potential for much larger fires like those currently burning in Colorado and New Mexico.

“We have been very fortunate in the state of Utah, not so in New Mexico and Colorado and California, where we haven’t burned multiple buildings up in a wild land fire, Halladay said.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get one going that will go through one of the summer cabins and we’ll have multiple loss of buildings; it’s just inevitable, sooner or later its going to happen.”

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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