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Drought conditions may lead to longer wildfire response times

Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 19:14:32-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Fighting wildfires will look different this year due to drought conditions, and it may result in crews going farther for water resources, doubling their response times.

So far only one State reservoir has shut down its boat ramp because of low water levels, but this is just the beginning of what officials said could be a dangerous summer.

Water levels are low and soil moisture is dry, making Utah landscapes the perfect kindling for wildfires.

Read - Record heat and drought may lead to fireworks ban statewide

Kaitlyn Webb, a spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said the season ahead will be difficult.

"It's challenging enough, given the conditions and the lightning starts we know we'll have," said Webb. "Reducing that unnecessary human-caused factor will go a long way."

Whatever the cause, crews still have to suppress the fire and this year, the low water levels mean extra work to find adequate water sources.

"We are having to travel further distances so a longer turn around for some of our water for specific fires," said Webb.

Read - Drought affecting recreation opportunities at Utah's reservoirs

To help conserve water while fighting a fire, Webb said they rotate to different source sites to allow the water to replenish.

Often, temporary water sources are set up to shorten their travel time to reservoirs.

Sometimes, in an emergency, Webb said crews will dip into the water used for livestock.

"What we’re really needing to think about this year is how much we can take out of there without completing diminishing water for that livestock," said Webb.

As of the first of June, the major reservoirs statewide are sitting at 46 percent capacity.

Read -Students work to save water during Utah drought

To put that in perspective, on an average year, there are around 24 million acre-feet of water stored up, statewide -- right now, it's just over 15 million acre-feet.

"Our biggest concern with the drought is how that’s affecting fuels or soil moisture, which is at a record low," said Webb.