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Human-caused wildfires continue to spread in Utah

Posted at 8:46 PM, Jun 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 00:36:21-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Fire investigators determined Sunday that the Morgan Canyon Fire, burning southwest of Grantsville, was caused by a small airplane crash that killed both the pilot and passenger.

Unified Fire Authority public information officer Matthew McFarland, could not comment directly on that fire because it is out of UFA's jurisdiction, but he did say it could be classified as a human-caused start.

"Pretty much the scope of natural fires is almost entirely limited to lightning strikes," he said. "Now there's a large amount of those, but other than that there's not a lot of natural causes for fire."

McFarland added that any fire where a human is involved can be considered a human-caused start.

"Like fireworks, which we are super worried about this time of year, a car accident," he said, listing off examples. "Another big campaign that you'll see the state and us talking about highly right now is trailers."

READ: Tracking the latest on Utah's wildfires

He said many of those starts are caused by dragging chains from trailers, adding that with the extreme drought, all it takes is a small spark to quickly start a fire.

"More often than not the driver doesn't even know they did it," McFarland said. "They kept going, but we've seen proof that that is the cause."

Last year, human-caused starts accounted for 78% of all wildfires, according to Utah Fire Info. This year, there have already been 334 human starts, making up 82% of all wildfires so far.

McFarland said in the case of a car accident, officials would likely not press any charges for starting a fire. That's not the case when the fire could have been prevented.

"You can be fined up to $1,000 for illegal behavior or negligent behavior," he added.

Those fines can multiply by the number of offenses and can grow even larger depending on the damage caused.

"If you've burned down houses, if you've burned down fences, if you've burned up somebody's car, your liability could include the cost of those lost assets as well," McFarland said.

He added that the leading causes of human starts is by far fireworks, campfires, and target shooting. But the UFA does see outliers like crashes and outdoor cooking fires. McFarland said one thing we can all do to prevent starts is to head outdoors with the right gear.

"Always have a fire extinguisher with you. Understand how it's going to operate," he said. "And then if you're having a fire pit, if you're cooking even on a gas or propane stove outdoors when you're camping, have a shovel."

Beyond having the right gear, McFarland said information is key. Adding that anyone looking to spend time outdoors should learn what current fire restrictions are in their area, as well as current fire danger. Five minutes of research could prevent yet another human-caused fire this year.