Utah’s governor says so far, 875 fires have sparked and it’s ‘the worst fire season we’ve probably had in memory’

Posted at 1:49 PM, Aug 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-07 22:19:51-04

LEHI, Utah -- Governor Gary Herbert said this year will go down as one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.

"It's the worst fire season we've probably had in memory. We're at the height of fire season right now. The drought and the tinder conditions are real. Sanpete's an example of that," he told FOX 13, referencing the wildfire burning near Indianola.

Gov. Herbert said 60% of the fires this season have been human caused. He said the state forester was reporting 10-15 calls a day reporting brush fires and wildfires of various sizes.

"We've had, as of last count, about 875 fires in our state," the governor said. "It's a number that's staggering."

As he has done several times, the governor pleaded with people to not do anything that could spark a fire in these hot and dry conditions. Gov. Herbert praised firefighters for doing what they could to protect lives and property.

"Credit them for the good work they're doing. We feel for those who've lost property," the governor said.

In his interview with FOX 13, Gov. Herbert expressed some criticism of federal rules that he said prevented clearing dead timber and underbrush and made wildfires worse.

"The fact that we can't spray for Bark Beetle, we can't harvest, we have the dead falls," he said. "It creates a forest hazard."

Gov. Herbert said he had spoken with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue about the problem. Utah's governor is seeking an exception to what's known as the "roadless rule" like neighboring states Idaho and Colorado have received.

"We appreciate Governor Herbert’s desire to work together with the Forest Service to improve forest health," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Wade Muehlhof said in a statement Tuesday. "It is a Forest Service priority to improve the conditions of forests, and we recognize that there is a substantial amount of Forest System Lands that are at risk from insect, disease and wildfire.

We are already responding to various data requests, and look forward to working with the State as they move through this process, as we have done in Idaho and Colorado."

Gov. Herbert said he believed a federal exemption would help prevent more catastrophic wildfires in the future.

"I don't think there's any question we'll prevent some fires, but just as important -- maybe more important -- the fires we'll have will be less intense," he said. "They won't be as large in their devastation that we have today."