Homes and cabins nestled amid canyon trees and oak brush along the Wasatch Front are the focus of increased attention by the Forest Service because of the heightened potential for fire.
It's a volatile mix: New residential developments pushing higher into the canyons and the tinder-dry foliage that surrounds them. Forest Service officials realize - especially this unseasonably hot dry year - that the threat of fire spreading from forest land to private property, or vice versa, is great.Old homes and summer cabins built on or near forest land are also a concern because they are less fire resistant than newer structures, said Jim Cook, fire supervisor for the Salt Lake Ranger District.
Some homeowners near wooded areas are also showing increased concern, arranging meetings with Cook to see what precautions they should take to protect themselves from the "California-style" forest fires of a year ago that destroyed dozens of homes adjacent to wooded areas.
Recent grass fires near homes and forest land in Sandy and in Parleys Canyon near Silver Creek Junction have also caught the attention of some concerned homeowners, Cook said.
The Forest Service has made the situation the major thrust of Smokey the Bear's 1988 fire prevention campaign. "Smokey says: `Keep it Clean . . . Around your House!" reads a flier Forest Service rangers plan to distribute door-to-door to at least 500 homeowners during the next week. The flier gives tips for trimming grasses, brush and limbs from around houses to reduce a fire's potential to spread.
The fliers will be distributed in Draper and in Sandy near Bell Canyon, as well as in the Wasatch Front canyons where houses and cabins are scattered among the trees. Developed areas in Bountiful and North Salt Lake near forest land are also targeted for individual contact from the Forest Service.
Neil Riffle, Forest Service fire staff officer, said while some homeowners are sensitive to the problem, others demonstrate an attitude of invincibility - always thinking the bad things will happen on someone else's property. The owner of a mountain shack may not be too concerned, even though a fire would also burn out his neighbor in a $100,000 cabin 100 feet away.
"You have to be concerned about what your neighbors are doing," he cautioned.
Developers often try to disturb as little of the natural surroundings as possible when building houses, but the tall pines and oak brush that make for a woodsy setting also increase the potential for fire damage. Ironically, restrictive covenants in some of the more exclusive wooded subdivisions require wood exteriors or shingles, the worst
kind to have in an area where fire potential is high.
The season fire officials are most concerned about usually begins the first part of August, but this year the fire season actually started in mid-June because of hot dry weather. Several fires along the Wasatch Front and in Parleys Canyon during the past two weeks demonstrate the area's high potential for fire, Cook said, noting his surprise that there hasn't been more damage to both the forest and homes this summer.
Additional firefighters may be recruited and trained to help existing crews keep up with the workload this season, Riffle said.
Riffle said there is a common belief that "the government" exists to take care of people and fight fires. While city dwellers and rural homeowners both pay taxes for fire protection, individuals share in the responsibility to make sure their homes are fire-safe.
Additional fire safety measures recommended by the Forest Service include:
- Clearing vegetation at least 30 feet from buildings.
- Cutting grass at least 100 feet from buildings.
- Cleaning pine needles and leaves from the roof and rain gutters.
- Cleaning leaves and trash from under buildings and porches.
- Stacking firewood uphill from buildings and not against an outside wall.
- Having water and a fire extinguisher available.