Utah County is posting a higher fire danger this summer than it has for many years, says the county fire marshal.
"We are drier than we have been in years," said Marshal Tom Wroe. "When a spark gets near the grass, it goes off like a light bulb."Tuesday at 11 a.m., crews from Nitrate Services Corp. let a spark escape from a waste fire, and the resulting grass fire near Lehi burned an estimated 700 acres of land and took nine hours to control. The fire was controlled by 8 p.m., but firefighters remained until 11:30 p.m. to make sure flames would not flare up again.
"It could have been a lot worse," Wroe said. "The fire got near Mendenhall Ranch, but only burned some fence posts and a corral. And, of course, we were mindful of Nitrate Services. They make explosives, and if they had gone up, people would be calling the area Twin Lakes (meaning the hole created might rival Utah Lake as a water basin).
"The fire really took off because the area was so dry. There was only 10 percent humidity, and the winds were blowing at 30 to 40 mph. The fuel (grass) was incredibly dry, and it made for a very hot fire.
"But the winds were with us, steering the fire away from the ranch and business. Our crews were great, especially the Lehi Fire Department. We are very proud."
Wroe said some farm equipment was destroyed, but he thought it was old and idle.
"This fire was big, but the most dangerous fire was Sunday. It only burned 50 acres, but it was in a highly populated area close to the watershed."
Wroe said the fire Sunday, on the foothills between Orem and Lindon, came close to burning the same area involved in the Mount Timpanogos fire last year. Losing that groundcover made the watershed less stable and has increased flooding this year, he said. He added that the instability probably contributed to the failure of the Murdock Canal in Lindon this spring.
Wroe said fireworks probably played a part in most of the grass fires of the last few weeks, including 12 over the Fourth of July weekend. Sunday's fire was started by fireworks.
"Fireworks are our most serious problem now. The dried grasses are flashy fuels - very dry and quick to burn. This is the worst fire situation we have been in for many years.
"People say the fireworks we sell at the special booths are safe and sane. Well, in this dry year, with the danger to people and property, any kind of fireworks are unsafe and insane."