Fires and fireworks: The numbers are telling, but just what do they tell?

Published: Sunday, July 29 2012 5:12 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s wildfire season is half over and the count is in:

Number of wildfires, 603. The number caused by fireworks, one.

Is that proof that the state- and city-imposed restrictions worked, or evidence of an over-reaction that brought a stiff financial cost to the fireworks industry?

"From what I am hearing … some are saying 50 percent down, some were saying 75 percent down, but several were hoping things would pick up over the twenty-fourth,” State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay said of fireworks sales. "It won't be like what they did last year. Last year they sold $20 million worth of fireworks and this year they won't hit it, I'll guarantee you that."

Joee Witter, a spokesman for Phantom Fireworks said it is hard to compare this year's firework sales with last year because of different circumstances.

"When the Fourth falls on midweek sales are typically down anyways so it's a little bit harder to compare," Witter said. "So that was a challenge in itself and then you added the dry weather to it so it just probably compounded it."

Witter said Gov. Gary Herbert's warning made an impact.

"The way that the governor came out and mentioned the ban on fireworks statewide it kind of instilled into a lot of consumers eyes that fireworks were banned entirely," he said. It's something we reached out to the governor's office for comment but we didn't get a return call."

Record-low precipitation levels in June prompted strict open fire and firework regulations from state and federal agencies.

"I've got both fingers on both hands and my toes crossed that we'll do as well as we've done for the past two days," Halladay said. Friday was the last day to light fireworks this year. "We really haven't had anything, it's been pretty much uneventful. The governor said use common sense and I was on everywhere I could get saying, 'please use reasonableness and common sense' and it looks like our citizens have."

Only one significant wildfire is suspected of being started by fireworks this year. The Pole Creek Fire burned 2,000 acres near Neola in Duchesne County, but Forestry Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said there haven't been any other significant fireworks fires reported.

Several weeks of cooler weather and a nearly fire-free Fourth and Twenty-Fourth of July gave Utah a much needed respite from the fire season, but fire safety still needs to be at the forefront of everone's attention since conditions are expected to dry out again and nearly 80 percent of fires this year have been human caused. 

"I personally didn't see a lot of fireworks–related fires and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that many of the cities in towns had restrictions in place," Curry said.

Restrictions also played a significant roll in curbing fires ignited by target shooting.

More than 20 fires were caused by target shooting across the state with a majority of those happening on the west side of Utah Lake but there haven't been any fires near Utah Lake since firearms were restricted in that area.

"What we haven't seen over on Utah Lake area is any fires at all due to those restrictions in place for target shooting," Curry said. "The number has been zero. Statewide the percentage of fires caused by gunfire is pretty low, but in the areas where we've put the target shooting restriction in place it's been almost 100 percent."

While Utah has had a few weeks of lower temperatures, gentle winds and higher humidity, a hot and dry forecast could quickly bring the fire woes of late June back.

"Things have kind of dropped out of the spotlight for wildfire but it doesn't take very long to get things back in the same situation we were in a month ago," Curry said. "We are having wildfires but the conditions aren't such that they'll spread rapidly and erratically the way they were in mid to late June."

Curry said that as plants dry out over the next five to seven days fire conditions are going to get a little bit more dangerous.

"As we have the ignitions that we typically have, be it natural or human caused, we are going to have more active fire and therefore a little higher chance of some of those fires getting to be unmanageable before initial attack is able to get a handle on them," he said.

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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