Heat, wind, and no rain just part of a troubling Western recipe for explosive fires

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 3:06 p.m. MDT

Nationally, fire suppression annually costs the U.S.  Forest Service more than $3 billion and that budget is fast being consumed by this fire season's hellish start.

People are fleeing and homes and cabins are burning. Sheep and horses have been charred and ranchers throughout the West are desperately trying to move their stock to safe ground, and edible ground.

"We are pretty close if not already in a crisis situation," said Utah Farm Bureau's Randy Parker.

A Wyoming rancher called Parker several weeks ago, looking to find forage in Utah for his thousands of cows because of a range fire. In Utah, with herds being chased away by a half dozen major fires still burning, ranchers are looking to Idaho or elsewhere for good grazing land.

It's hard to find.

By June 24, the Natural Resources Conservation Service's drought report said only 26 percent of Utah's pasture and range land was in good or excellent condition, compared with 39 percent of the landscapes deemed poor or very poor.

"There's a lot of chess playing going on with producers right now trying to get ahead of the curve on this thing," Parker said.

Even before the fires, grazing for livestock was reduced in the forests around Fish Lake in Utah, and Parker fears more cuts as feed dries up and mountain summer ranges burn.

So, months from now when the first snow falls and the fire season is nothing more than a bad memory for the majority of people, the real costs of rebuilding and replanting  will begin.

In the metamorphosis of recovery, Jenkins and others are hopeful there will be some re-thinking — such as where to build in the mountains, how much money to spend on forest health or if earlier grazing should accompany those earlier springs to cut down on cheat grass.

"Every year is a fire year and some will be more eventful than others," Jenkins said. "We need to do everything we can to reduce those hazardous fuels and protect that urban interface. Big fires will happen again."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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