SALT LAKE CITY — Even though much of northern Utah has endured months of wet, rainy weather, a busy fire season could be just around the corner.
"One of our concerns is that we have an extreme amount of burnable fuel and it's going to dry out sooner or later," said state Fire Marshal Brent Halladay. "If we have fires, we'll have tremendous fires."
With a lot of snow still in the high country, Dick Buhler, the head of Utah's Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands, said, "I would guess the majority of our fire issues will be in the lower foothills and lower desert country."
In Salt Lake City, firefighters took to the street Wednesday passing out literature about wildfire preparation among residents living in the foothills.
They want homeowners to create a defensible or survivable space by limiting vegetation surrounding their homes.
"It's obviously been a very wet season and that lends itself to a great deal of growth and vegetation that is going to dry out in weeks," said Martha Ellis, Salt Lake City fire marshal. "It won't be long until we're looking at some serious issues here in the foothills."
Salt Lake firefighter Capt. Richard Boden recalled a windblown fire two years ago that jumped I-80.
"It has that same potential up here. We get a wind blown fire up here we could lose some homes," he said.
Boden said a large conflagration that takes out an entire Utah neighborhood, which has become increasingly common throughout the West, is "definitely inevitable."
Another concern is more powerful, high-flying fireworks. A new state law allows cake fireworks, repeaters or multiple tube devices.
"With those things having the capacity of going 150 feet plus in the air, we've got issues of people lighting them under trees, or awnings or whatever," said Ellis. "We have increased our restrictions in Salt Lake City for where people can actually blow the fireworks off."
A ban that once forbade fireworks north of 11th Avenue now is extended down to South Temple.
The ban also includes the Marmalade District west of the Capitol and all of the area above Foothill Drive on the east bench and the University of Utah.
Jeannie Bennett, who lives in the upper Avenues, said she's glad the fire department is making the extra effort to inform residents.
"They must be concerned and serious about it, and I certainly appreciate their efforts to get me informed and doing something," she said.
State forestry director Dick Buhler said the agency has increasingly focused in the last few years on training local fire departments to respond quickly to wildfires, through training and the use of smaller, more mobile fire trucks.
"We've beefed up initial attack resources for first responders," Buhler said. Now, "probably 98 percent of the fires we're able to get to quickly."
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