Utah's Red Cross and firefighters encourage fire prepardness

Published: Saturday, May 17 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City spent $650,000 on six new Type 6 Wildland Fire Engines or brush trucks. The trucks are placed at fire houses in neighborhoods where wilderness meets the homes.

Mark Wetzel, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As wildfires in California force the evacuations and destroy homes, local firefighters and the Red Cross are urging Utahns to be ready in case a wildfire breaks out near their home.

Right now, fire is not threatening any Utah community, but Salt Lake Fire Capt. Scott Winkler says that can change as quickly as the weather in many areas of the state.

Standing at the mouth of City Creek Canyon, Winkler surveyed the vast open space that meets a ring of exclusive homes at the top of the ridge.

"It's very vulnerable to the effects of a wildfire," he said of the canyon.

Looking over the area with the eyes of a firefighter with more than two decades of experience, Winkler said he sees a firefighting challenge.

"We have all of this natural vegetation … and we have homes ringing the entire area of City Creek," Winkler said.

A month from now when the fine fuels such as cheat grass dry out, the slope and many others across the state will be vulnerable to wildfire.

"That's one lightning strike or one cigarette butt or one errant bottle rocket away from a major fire running up one of these slopes and threatening the homes," Winkler said.

That's a big reason the city spent around $650,000 on six new Type 6 Wildland Fire Engines or brush trucks.

The department strategically stations the specialized brush trucks at fire houses in neighborhoods where the wilderness meets the homes. Winkler said crews are ready to catch small fires before they turn into catastrophes.

The new four-wheel drive trucks carry 400 gallons of water and pack the best wildland firefighting gear, including chainsaws, Pulaski fire axes and quick-loading foam guns.

Winkler said the purchase of the new trucks reflects the wildfire urgency among local departments in Utah. More than 50 of his fellow firefighters in the department have advanced wildland firefighting training.

"Our crews continue to monitor and train and have a presence in areas just like this," he said.

The Red Cross urges all Utahns to get ready too.

"Our three main steps are get a kit, make a plan and be informed," said Page Neal, individual and community preparedness manager for Utah Region Red Cross.

As Utahns consider their own risk for wildfires, Neal said it's a good time to prepare or restock a 72-hour kit and review the family communication plan.

When Utah families are left homeless by fire, the Red Cross steps in. It kicked off its "Fire Hurts" fundraising campaign Thursday. The Utah Region Red Cross aims to raise $100,000 to do the same work it is doing in California.

"We are sheltering and we're feeding and providing that initial support to those individuals that are waiting to see if their homes were affected or not," said Heidi Ruster, CEO of the Utah Region Red Cross.

The Red Cross also has a wildfire app for smartphones and other mobile devices. The app details fire preparation ideas for the home, a checklist for evacuation and fire alerts for specific areas. When a fire forces evacuations, the app provides that information, along with shelter locations.

More preparation tools can also be found at Ready, Set, Go!, a national fire preparedness campaign.

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com

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