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As wildfire season starts, Utah leaders plead with people to not 'burn the state down'

Posted at 1:50 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 19:09:26-04

LITTLE DELL RESERVOIR, Utah — State and federal officials are bracing for what could be a rough wildfire season in Utah.

The state's drought emergency continues. Reservoirs are low, and some may run dry again this year. Weather forecasts are calling for another season of above-normal fire conditions.

"Our lands are very dry, our soils are very dry and this is all setting us up for potentially a difficult fire year," Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson warned at a news conference Monday.

She urged Utahns to take steps to prevent wildfires. Last year, Utahns were very responsive to messages about drought and wildfire danger — the number of human-caused wildfires dropped 51%.

"We can’t let our guard down. Right now, we need every single Utahn to be personally responsible," Lt. Gov. Henderson said.

This year, wildfire season is starting earlier than expected. On Saturday, a 100-acre wildfire threatened the Great Salt Lake Marina. Authorities told FOX 13 News it was human-caused, but the exact cause remains under investigation.

Climate forecasts are calling for an earlier start to wildfire season, said meteorologist Basil Newmerzhycky with the Great Basin Coordination Center. Above-normal weather patterns will begin in southern Utah and move north.

"June, which is typically our busiest month in a lot of years, even in normal years, looks like it could really be a gangbuster fire month for the middle, higher elevations especially," he told FOX 13 News. "Some of the valleys down here that don’t have a good grass crop because of the drought, ironically, may not be that bad."

By August, though, monsoonal moistures should move in and move things to "normal."

"We have a pretty good monsoon season this year which has not always been the case," Newmerzchycky said.

But firefighters say people can do a lot to prevent wildfires. They urged "fire sense," including ensuring vehicles do not have dragging chains and are properly maintained, limiting target shooting and fireworks to the appropriate areas.

"When we start going out camping, please be aware of your surroundings," said Kayli Yardley with Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. "Things are going to be extra dry."

The legislature this year took steps to try to offer help in wildfire season. The state now has the ability to close areas of extreme wildfire risk to target shooting entirely. Governor Spencer Cox has said he would like the ability to enact fireworks bans, something the legislature has not even considered. Still, local communities are expected to enact some pretty tough fireworks restrictions this year.

"Wildfires cause millions of dollars in cost per year. They pollute our air, they impact our watersheds and if we can stop that from happening, we save millions of dollars and stop those adverse impacts, we’re so much better off as a state," said Brian Steed, the executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Steed said people can make a big impact on wildfire season.

"Our actions make a difference," he said. "And if we’re exercising increased vigilance, we won’t burn the state down."