Utah seeks $21 million more to pay for wildfires

Posted at 9:43 PM, Aug 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-14 23:58:46-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Firefighters are asking Utah lawmakers for more money to extinguish wildfires across the state.

"This has been a very strange year for fire," said Mike Styler, the director of Utah's Department of Natural Resources. "Probably one of the worst I can remember."

Fire officials on Tuesday asked the Utah State Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee for $13 million to keep fighting wildfires, and another $8 million to re-seed scorched areas to prevent mudslides.

"Hopefully, the worst is behind us," Styler told FOX 13. "We're still going to have tropical moisture, we're still going to have lightning strikes. But hopefully those lightning strikes will be accompanied with rain."

The Utah Department of Natural Resources said 1,020 wildfires have burned across the state this year, torching 422,112 acres. It has cost about $50 million to fight the fires. Utah's share of that cost is $16 million; the feds pick up the rest.

Appearing wary of shelling out $21 million, lawmakers quizzed state fire officials on how much the federal government pays and if people who start some of those wildfires will pay, too.

"To what extent do you go after the person or people who cause it, or the company that caused it, whatever it might be?" asked Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork.

"We've pursued wildfire cost and recovery on a lot of fires and we're continuing to do that," said Utah State Forester Dick Buehler.

"We have to do an investigation on each fire. We have to prove that there's some negligence or intent involved. We have a couple of fires that we're going to go after, potentially go after, individuals or companies on."