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All of Utah may be moved to the most extreme fire restrictions

Posted at 4:07 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 19:12:16-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Two counties have now moved to the highest level of fire restrictions in the state.

But state officials tell FOX 13 they are considering moving all of Utah to "Stage 2" fire restrictions.

"Right now? At this time of year? Anything is on the table with what we’re seeing with fire behavior," said Jamie Barnes, the interim director of Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands.

As of Monday, Sanpete and Wasatch counties have been put under Stage 2 restrictions. Grand and San Juan counties have requested it, Barnes said.

In Sanpete County, conditions right now are what they would typically see in August.

"We’ve got extreme fire behavior. We’ve got the potential for large fire growth," said Sanpete County Fire Warden Tom Peterson. "The water on the mountain is almost done. A lot of our farmers are running out of water and we’re in the first crops. It’s definitely historical. It’s the worst I’ve seen in 13 years."

It was enough for the Sanpete County Commission to vote for Stage 2 restrictions. If enough counties request it, Barnes said they might just put the entire state under Stage 2 restrictions.

"Every day it’s getting hotter," she told FOX 13. "Every day the fuels are curing more. Stage 2 are restrictions are becoming more and more possible across the state."

What "Stage 2" means is no open flame of any kind, including campfires (propane cooking stoves are still allowed). Under a Stage 1 restriction, which most of Utah is in, campfires are allowed in designated areas. There's also no smoking; no welding, grinding or cutting; no fireworks on state lands; no tracer ammunition or exploding targets; and no ATVs or any other motorized vehicle with a combustible engine unless it has a spark arrestor.

What is not prohibited under Stage 2 restrictions? Fireworks.

That is left to local municipalities to decide under current state law. But Barnes said they are pleading with people to be smart and re-think fireworks this year.

"There is a ban on any state lands. That includes state lands an unincorporated private lands. Municipalities have firework restrictions so if you’re going to enter into fireworks use? Please use caution," she said, adding of fireworks: "We would ask that that not happen this year."

Governor Spencer Cox said he was supportive of moving all of Utah under a Stage 2 restriction.

"It’s as dry as it’s ever been in recorded history in the state of Utah and we don’t want to mess around when it comes to fires," he said in comments to FOX 13 while visiting the St. George area.

Nearby, crews are fighting the lightning-caused 14,000-acre Flatt Fire that forced the evacuation of homes in the town of Enterprise. As of Monday, the hard work of firefighters in extremely rough and hot conditions led to the wildfire being 50% contained.

FOX 13 first reported last week that legislative leaders were not inclined to go for an all-out fireworks ban, urging Utahns to closely follow local restrictions. Gov. Cox said he was legally prohibited from issuing his own ban, so he has urged cities and towns to go ahead and ban them.

"The legislature can do it but they don’t have any interest in coming into special session. The local cities can do it but they have to make the decision based on guidance that comes forward in legislation," he said. "We have many, many cities that have adopted additional fireworks restrictions and we certainly anticipate more over the next two weeks as we lead up to the Fourth of July."

So far, a few communities including Eagle Mountain and Holladay have. Other communities like St. George have enacted strict restrictions limiting fireworks to only public parks.

Salt Lake County, the state's most populous county, said right now it will not seek Stage 2 restrictions.

"Rather, we are relying upon the County municipalities to exercise their local authority to make decisions regarding their own individual jurisdictions. Each county has unique circumstances related to fire challenges based on local conditions and population base, so it is not uncommon for jurisdictions to take different approaches when it comes to fire restrictions," said Clint Mecham, the county's emergency manager. "It should be noted, however, that all of Salt Lake County unincorporated areas are already subject to a total ban on fireworks and other restrictions per a State Order."