The great thing about this is through the exposure we're getting residents in the area who are also becoming aware of what they need to do to help protect their homes from wildland fires. —Craig Erickson
SANDY — The sprawling Dimple Dell Canyon provides a nature lover's retreat smack dab in the middle of an urban area where folks can hike, bird watch or ride horses.
But the 644 acres of heavily vegetated land also poses a fire hazard because of the extreme overgrowth of bushes and non-native trees. A helicopter removal of some of that vegetation concluded Tuesday in a partnership that included the U.S. Forest Service, Sandy City and the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
"It's a nice canyon with great trails and houses above it," said Jason Curry, spokesman with the state forestry division. "It's also overgrown with an excessive amount of invasive trees and thick brush."
A U.S. Forest Service grant of $300,000 financed the helicopter operation for Sandy as part of its Community Wildfire Protection Plan — a city-specific effort to reduce the threat of wildfires in the wildland urban interface.
Curry said aerial removal of the vegetation was required because land-use restrictions prohibit motorized vehicles in the canyon.
The helicopter, traditionally used in logging operations, can haul out three tons of vegetation on each pass, said Craig Erickson, a Sandy firefighter and EMT involved in the effort, and the helicopter made multiple passes both days.
Erickson, who fought wildland fires before hiring on at Sandy almost a decade ago, added he believes the operation was the first time Dimple Dell Canyon had any of its vegetation cleared away in such a significant fashion.
"It is the first of its kind ever — a once in a generation type of thing," he said. "I am not going to stop here either, but keep pressing on" to address other fire-prone areas in the city.
Erickson said the city of Sandy worked with the county, state and Forest Service for 18 months to make the project happen, cutting through red tape to get the necessary approvals.
"The great thing about this is through the exposure we're getting residents in the area who are also becoming aware of what they need to do to help protect their homes from wildland fires," he said.
A Western states' analysis released this year by Headwaters Economics showed the cost of fighting wildfires at risk to increase dramatically because of development in the foothills, canyons and other wildland areas. Nearly half of the "urban interface" in Salt Lake County, for example, is developed, sporting homes and cabins that necessitate quick response by firefighters.
The state works with individual communities to identify risky areas and offer ways to reduce wildfire hazards through those protection plans.
More than 600 at-risk communities have been mapped by the division, which also requires those plans if the areas want to be eligible for help in firefighting costs.