The worst thing that happens when there is a wildfire is that people don't have a plan and don't know what to do. —Jasen Asay, SLCFD spokesperson
SALT LAKE CITY — A drier than normal wet season could mean a hotter than normal wildfire season in Utah this year.
The Salt Lake City Fire Department is warning homeowners and residents in "urban interface areas" like the foothills to be especially mindful of the fire danger given the recent dry winter.
"We expect this to be a very hot and a very dry summer," said SLCFD spokesperson Jasen Asay.
He said properties in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Federal Heights near the foothills face the most potential damage from a wildfire. Asay added that high winds could blow cotton from trees around the valley creating an even bigger potential fire hazard.
"If cotton catches fire, it can become instant fuel for fire," he said.
He suggested that homeowners clear as much dry brush from around their property as possible to create a natural break in case of fire.
Asay said local residents should become familiar with the "Ready, Set, Go" strategy. The program teaches individuals who live in high-risk wildfire areas how to best prepare themselves and their properties against fire threats.
"Ready" means to prepare in advance for the threat of fire so your home is ready in case of a wildfire outbreak. Create defensible space by clearing brush away from your home as well as using fire-resistant landscaping and protect your home with fire-safe construction measures. Also, assemble emergency supplies and belongings in a safe spot and make sure all residents in the home are on the same page regarding planned escape routes.
"Set" promotes situational awareness when a fire starts. Pack a vehicle with emergency items and monitor the latest news from local media and local fire department for updated information on the fire.
"Go" encourages residents to leave early following their prepared action plan, which allows firefighters to better maneuver around the wildfire and ensure personal safety.
"The worst thing that happens when there is a wildfire is that people don't have a plan and don't know what to do," Asay said. "We are just encouraging people to plan before anything happens."
The wildfire season has begun in the West. On Thursday, state Route 73 was closed between Tooele and Cedar Fort as firefighters worked to gain control of a 500-acre wildfire — one of the first of the year.
Authorities said the fire was sparked by an equipment malfunction and was fanned by high winds in the area. Fortunately, no structures were threatened, though crews had to work to keep the fire from spreading to nearby campgrounds.
Meanwhile, major wildfires have already struck in neighboring Colorado and Arizona.
The Hewlett fire in Colorado has grown to nearly 7,700 acres, prompting the governor Friday to declare a state of emergency in Larimer County. The fire, which was about 5 percent contained, is located about 20 miles from Ft. Collins and is being fought by almost 400 fire personnel with more en route. Additional equipment is also on the way, including heavy air tankers and two helicopters.
In Arizona four blazes are wreaking havoc over thousands of acres. According to a status report, the fires have consumed more than 25,000 acres.
Four structures have been destroyed and an evacuation was ordered in Crown King, a mining town in Prescott National Forest. The Gladiator fire was about 5 percent contained. The largest fire in Arizona — the Sunflower — had scorched almost 15,000 acres and was listed at 15 percent containment. Two other fires — Bull Flat and Elwood — were 50 percent contained, the report stated.
For more information on wildfire safety, visit http://www.slcfire.com/go/doc/3687/1334907/Salt-Lake-City-Fire-Prevention-Bureau.