August rainstorms help curb wildfires, officials say

Posted at 7:31 PM, Aug 03, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY-– The August rainstorms have been a blessing for fire crews fighting wildfires this season. The National Forest Service reports, while Utah had a dry winter, the summer storms are moisturizing the vegetation and preventing fires from starting and spreading.

“Rain’s great for fire suppression, in terms of mitigating fire’s effect and mitigating fire behavior,” said Jason Curry, spokesman with the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands.

Curry said the much needed storms have resulted in a lower number of acres burned.

“This early rain, we typically don’t see during July, has helped sort of maintain the level of moisture in all of our vegetation,” he said. “When you’ve got higher moisture levels, vegetation responds by not burning. So fire behavior’s diminished. It keeps things small. So even though we’ve had a lot of fires, crews responding on those fires have had an easier time putting them out.”
One downside, Curry says, is fire crews face difficulties while fighting fires during a storm.

“It also adds a little bit more hazard, both for driving and for operating on steep slopes,” he said. “It makes all the rocks and boulders more loose, makes footing less sure, and so there is a little bit of an added hazard that way.”
He says when rain falls on debris at a burned site, it can trigger landslides.

“Often times, when you’ve got wildfire and then fresh rain on top of it, yeah, we’ll get debris flows, mudslides and that can also be a hazard,” Curry said.

Brian McInerney with the National Weather Service said August rain is typical this time of year and is created by a monsoonal flow moving in from Mexico.

"When the sun's angled right over Mexico, at a pretty good angle, like 90 degrees, what happens, is it creates a low pressure right over Mexico,” McInerney said. “And that pulls in that cold wet air mass, and pulls it up into Mexico, Arizona and then maybe into southern Utah and into northern Utah."

Residents are still advised to slow the flow.

Even though Utah is receiving rain this summer, it’s not enough to pull the state out of a drought. McInerney said there is no guarantee the heavy monsoonal rain will continue through August. He said the lack of spring melt is really putting a strain on the state's water supply.