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Fencing and reseeding project following Rockport Fire paying off

Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 6:46 p.m. MDT

Fencing in the burn scar of the Rockport Fire in Summit County aims to help prevent mudslides.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News

ROCKPORT, Summit County — Efforts to prevent mudslides following the Rockport Fire in Summit County last August appear to be working.

Last summer, hundreds of homes were evacuated as a fire started by lightning spread in Summit County. The Rockport Fire that began Aug. 13 burned more than a dozen homes and sheds while scorching the mountainside.

Driving up to her cabin for the first time since last summer, Diana Witt was surprised at what she saw Thursday. She was sure the mountainside would be surrounded with grey ash and burnt trees. Instead, it’s mostly green, and the deer are back.

“I really do think it’s great,” Witt said. “I was worried about it, but it hasn’t happened.”

Her cabin in Rockport Estates is where the wildfire burned nearly 2,000 acres.

“See the scar on the hip?” she said, pointing up the mountainside. “Right up there and that was close. In fact, there was a house that was burned just around the corner, burned to the ground.”

Summit County Emergency Manager Kevin Callahan said the big risk in the area is fire. And after a fire like the one last August, the risk becomes mudslides because there is nothing to hold back water when there’s a big downpour.

"We did provide sandbags to the residents around the areas where if they felt like they needed more protection around their homes," he said.

But Callahan said he wanted to do more to protect the homes in the area. He worked with the National Resources Conservation Service to install fencing in areas of the mountain where water and mud would flow to try to keep the danger back.

He was also was able to get Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources to help in having the mountainsides reseeded.

The project was done in October to grow vegetation and keep the soil together.

"This is really what we were hoping for,” Callahan said. “We were biting our nails a little bit late in the fall after the seed had gone in and the rains came, because it could have washed away."

But it didn’t.

"After probably the first three or four rains, we'd come up and check on it. We felt pretty good that things were coming along," he said.

The fencing cost about $130,000, and the reseeding project about $250,000, but it didn't cost the county anything. All of it was paid with federal grants.

“This is going to be really great habitat for all the deer in the area,” Callahan said. “It’s going to be much more fire resistant, so we’re very happy with how it turned out.”

The wildfire was a tough lesson for people to learn, he said, but now they will be better prepared in case it happens again.

“I think now this community is going to be much more fire aware. They’re going to do a better job, and that’s what we need is partners,” Callahan said. “The county can educate and fire staff can suppress the fires, but really it’s a property maintenance issue. If you take care of your property, the fire risk is going to be a lot less.”

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