At summer's outset, Utahns found themselves staring at a wildfire season with the potential for extreme and widespread damage. There was nothing people could do about the dry and windy weather in the offing, but since many of the early fires were human-caused, there was something they could do about that.
And now as summer recedes, it appears they did. State and federal land managers have formally lifted the fire restrictions imposed early in the season. There is no way of telling how effective those restrictions were in preventing more fires, but the fact that serious man-caused fires were comparatively few during the hot months of July and August suggests they did what they were intended to do.
This is not to diminish the severe and continuing impact of wildfires in places like Herriman, Saratoga Springs and in the foothills above Alpine. But there is reason to think that roster may have been much larger were it not for concerted efforts to make people aware of the danger they were facing, and the danger they themselves might cause.
The fire restrictions put in place in May, including limits on target shooting and off-road vehicle use, may evolve into permanent seasonal regulations, given current demographic and climatological realities. More population now exists at places that interface with wild lands. Even in the course of a mild summer, fire dangers will still exist, and government should do what it reasonably can to make sure the danger is still high on the minds of state residents.
Even as Utah scales back restrictions, serious fires are still raging in several Western states. The fire season has been particularly severe in Colorado, New Mexico and in the Pacific Northwest. Several million acres of land has been left charred by what will certainly be one of the most extreme fire seasons on record.
In Utah, fire managers say more than 1,400 separate blazes scorched nearly a half-million acres. Fighting those fires costs state and federal coffers tens of millions of dollars.2 comments on this story
There is no way of knowing what fires didn't ignite because people heeded warnings and obeyed restrictions. It is safe to assume that the highly publicized warnings led to some level of behavior modification, proving that formal restrictions are less about punishing wrongdoers than reminding everyone to use simple common sense.
It's likely we have earned some solace in that the season could have been worse had we not taken collective responsibility to act with greater caution. It's important that lesson, should it fade as winter approaches, be rekindled come next year.