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Budget concerns arise again as wildfire season begins

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Posted at 9:35 PM, May 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-16 00:21:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY - As flames ravage more than 10,000 acres in southern California, many are starting to wonder when wildfire season will reach Utah.

“Fire is a monster unto itself and kind of burns when it wants to burn and where it wants to burn,” said Sean Lodge of the Northern Utah Interagency Fire Center.

In Salt Lake City, it feels almost unseasonably calm when compared to the fires burning through San Diego, California. However, work could be starting early, in the event other states need assistance.

“We have some crews that are available right now nationally to go out and help out anywhere in the U.S. to any fire or natural disaster,” Lodge said, “All we need is that resource order to get them on the road to go help with that assistance.”

In the meantime, they’ll be training for what happens on the ground in Utah.

Drought conditions throughout Utah have created abnormally dry conditions in some parts of the state, which could be problematic.

"We are projecting that we could exceed our fire suppression budget by about $470 million,” said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Service.

While federal funding for firefighting received a 14.5 percent increase this year, the resources  just aren’t as big as the fires.

"Fire seasons are growing longer,” said Jones. “We have more homes built near forest and range lands, which make firefighting costs go up. Our fires are burning hotter and faster and they’re more difficult to control.”

Last season, the Patch Springs Fire burned more than 30,000 acres near Terra, while the Rockport 5 scorched homes in Summit County, spreading crews and money thin throughout the state and west.

“The recovery resources may be affected if we don’t bring in enough financial support,” said Heidi Ruster, CEO of the Red Cross of Utah.

It’s why the organization is launching the Fire Hurts Red Cross Helps campaign, an extra effort to fundraise for fire relief.

“We’re not concerned that we won’t be able to do things. We will be able to respond. Will we be able to provide as many resources as in previous events? Possibly not.”

For information on how to prepare for this fire season, visit www.utahfireinfo.gov.