If you’re going to violate the fire code this year, you’re going to be taken to jail. —Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds
SALT LAKE CITY — They’re stepping up hillside patrols, even threatening to put offenders behind bars.
Several police agencies along the Wasatch Front are increasing enforcement of fire restrictions for the Fourth of July holiday and beyond.
In Summit County, deputies already booked one man into jail for allegedly starting a bonfire near Echo Reservoir Friday. Investigators said the man claimed responsibility for the fire. The confession didn’t elicit sympathy.
“If you’re going to violate the fire code this year, you’re going to be taken to jail,” Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. “We’ve got the room to do it and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It’s that dangerous out there.”
Edmunds is the head of one of the agencies taking “zero-tolerance” policies against fire restriction law breakers.
In Davis County, Sheriff Todd Richardson said he authorized extra shifts for deputies to patrol hillsides during the holiday. Deputies are expected to be armed with ATVs and a Humvee in addition to the regular slate of SUVs and trucks.
“This isn’t just an incident that we’re looking at loss of property,” Richardson said. “There’s a high probability of loss of life at the same time.”
Deputy Mike Ditolla led a tour Monday of what’s known as Firebreak Road above Farmington. Beside the dirt trail, bone dry brush and yellow grass are abundant.
“The past few weeks we’ve been out there handing out a lot of warnings, letting folks know that the regulations are in effect,” Ditolla said of hillsides in the county. “And starting this week — based on the danger being so high — we’re going to start handing out citations for it.”
Other police agencies talked of stricter enforcement and putting additional resources in the field.
Ogden Police Lt. Chad Ledford said he will be sending out four full-time officers with patrolling fire teams to look for violators, rather than using volunteers they dispatched in past years.
Weber County Sheriff’s Capt. Klint Anderson said deputies in his jurisdiction will be more inclined to issue citations than they have in past years.
In Utah County, deputies will focus on fire restriction enforcement in canyon areas over the coming weeks, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
Additional police agencies — including Salt Lake police, Unified police and Provo police — are planning to be extra vigilant about potential problems.
“We’re in extreme danger right now across the state — across the West — and we need to take those precautions,” Davis County Fire Marshal Ellis Bruch said.
Holladay residents in Olympus Hill Park Tuesday were adamant about keeping their neighborhood safe from fire.
"The fire hazard that we have right now, it's our responsibility as citizens to protect what we've got," said Shelly Peterson.
Rebekah Smith said she wouldn't hesitate to call the police if she saw someone setting off fireworks in her neighborhood, which is an area where fireworks are prohibited.
"I would call the police. It is just irresponsible in this climate right now," she said. "I think these are unusual times and we need to be careful. People should be responsible."
Other residents said they would think twice before calling police on their neighbors or friends.
"I think people are pretty civil, if someone was watching them and if they knew that they were doing something that they are not supposed to, then they would stop," said Hannah Unguren.
"If I was doing something that was wrong, (I would want) someone to give me the common courtesy to tell me that I was doing it wrong first and then if I didn’t listen, I would deserve to be reported."
Courtnie Jensen had similar feelings about reporting her Sandy neighbors.
"If I knew it was a pretty responsible neighbor, I would mention something to them," she said. "But if it were an irresponsible neighbor, one of the crazy neighbors that lights fireworks five days during the week, I would report them."
Maray Heidellberger, of Sandy, would not have any problem calling the police on her neighbors, but admits that more specific information about newly imposed fire restrictions would be helpful in educating the community.
"I am not afraid to call; I have had to call before on other things," she said. "It would be nice if each city put posters out, maybe in the corner of main intersections, letting people know what has been canceled, what the rules are."