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State agencies prepare to fight wildfires

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Posted at 4:49 PM, Apr 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-02 18:49:22-04

NEW HARMONY, UT – Burn scars from massive fires that tore through Southern Utah are still fresh on back country lands, but state agencies are already preparing for this year.

The New Harmony fire burned through nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed seven homes. There was more destruction on Bumblebee Ridge on Tuesday, but this kind of destruction was done in the hope of preventing future flames from spreading.

The Bureau of Land Management uses a machine called a bull hog to grind down trees and shrubs, thinning the vegetation.

“We actually mulch the trees down with these machines,” BLM Fire Mitigation Specialist Nick Howell said. “In turn, it provides a favorable seed bed for the favorable grasses and shrubs that are going to be fire resistant.”

It’s just one way the BLM, along with the Utah Department of Forestry, Fire and State Lands as well as the US Forestry Service, are fighting fires before the flames come.

“We’ll plan for a bad year every year,” said Mike Melton, Utah Department of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “And just take it as it comes.”

Howell said they use prescribed burns, machinery and even goats to mitigate fire threats. It all depends on the goal and the topography.

Melton said another key aspect is education. They spend months talking with landowners about ways they can help firefighters by clearing land around their homes.

It’s something Bart Tanner knows well. He watched the New Harmony Fire come dangerously close to his home.

“You have to have a clear space around your house,” Tanner said. “Or it’s going to go up in flames.”

Melton said it’s those partnerships between agencies and the landowners that do the most in preventing wide spread fires.

For tips on creating defensible space around your home, visit the state’s fire prevention website.