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Warm weather brings winter wildfires

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Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-09 20:22:41-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Record-breaking temperatures across northern Utah are making areas that would usually be covered in snow this time of year dry and flammable.

"I don't recall, in my time, seeing a weekend in February where we had five moderate- to large-size fires," said Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry and Fire and State Lands.

Over the past two days, five fires ranging from 10 to 120 acres have erupted in three Utah counties.

Crews responded to blazes in Tooele County, Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County and two in Utah County at Camp Williams and near Utah Lake.

"To have these size of fires, particularity 120 acres in Tooele County, is pretty alarming,” Curry said.

Curry said that's the size of a fire he would expect to see in the summer months, not the first weekend of February.

“We've just been warmer than normal -- the snowline is a lot higher than normal. Typically this time of year the fuels are dormant because it's supposed to be winter," said Kevin Pfister with the Forest Fire Management Office.

To put out those fires, local and state agencies had to work together and resources were limited because seasonal firefighting teams aren't ready yet.

“Right now is the hiring stage for the crews. Getting trained and getting new people qualified, usually people are ready to go by April,” Curry said.

Many of those working for the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management say they've never seen a winter fire season like this. They're concerned this unusual start to the fire season could mean an extreme year ahead.

“We’re set up to have a busy fire season unless we get a lot of rain,” Pfister said.

Officials with the Division of Forestry say all of the fires over the weekend were preventable. They want to remind everyone to take extra caution when dealing with fire during the warm dry weather.