Number of human-caused fires 'above average' this year, officials say

Published: Saturday, July 19 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

State wildfire officials have implemented fire restrictions in several counties in light of dry conditions and human behaviors, such as igniting fireworks, that increasingly lead to wildfire.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The number of acres consumed by human-caused wildfires is currently more than quadruple that of lightning-caused wildfires, according to state fire officials.

Because campfires and fireworks appear to be significant culprits, and in light of dry conditions, fire restrictions have been implemented in several counties to address human behaviors that commonly lead to wildfires.

"This year's been a little above average for the number of fires we've seen from campfires and from fireworks, and those are two of the activities that are targeted in these fire restrictions," said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Much of the problem could be prevented through adult supervision, Curry said.

"Fireworks have been bigger this year than they have in the past," he said. "I'd say the theme has been people allowing young kids, adolescent teenagers, to use fireworks unsupervised … in areas where a common sense adult would be able to say, 'This is not a good spot.'"

The restrictions apply to unincorporated areas of Box Elder, Cache, Rich, Weber, Uintah, Daggett, Summit, Wasatch, Duchesne, Carbon, Emery, San Juan, Grand, Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties. Prohibited activities include:

Having open fires of any kind, except campfires built within designated areas at improved facilities.

Smoking, except at a developed recreation site or in an enclosed vehicle or building.

Using any kind of fireworks, tracer ammunition or explosive targets.

Cutting, welding or grinding metal in areas of dry vegetation.

Similar restrictions are in place for Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Private lands within incorporated townships, as well as Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands, are not included in the state's restrictions.

Igniting fireworks is currently not permitted anywhere in Utah, but will be allowed and regulated from Monday, July 21 through July 27 in most cities throughout the state to celebrate Pioneer Day, according to Unified Fire Authority.

Recreationists may have campfires in designated fire pits, but caution and common sense are vital components to all outdoor activities, Curry said.

"Often times people will leave their campsite thinking that (the campfire) will smolder itself out. But as quickly as weather conditions change here in Utah, the winds could come up and blow that layer of ash off, and then the embers end up in the dry grass. We've seen it several times this season," he said.

"If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave."

The state's restrictions were implemented amid an active fire season, with a running total of 531 fires and an estimated 12,421 acres burned. Of those, 341 fires were human-caused, burning an estimated 10,136 acres, according to Curry.

The Taylor Mountain Road Fire, which burned about 3,569 acres north of Vernal, is the state's largest fire of the season to date. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, though it appears to be human-caused, Curry said.

As fireworks season winds down and monsoonal thunderstorms become more frequent, Curry says the ratio between human- and lightning-caused wildfires will likely even out. But caution should remain constant, he said.

"We can't control the ignition of lightning-caused fires, but we can control human behavior and try to limit the human-caused fires, and that's why we're putting restrictions in place," he said.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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