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'Range Fire' the latest in record year of human-caused wildfires

Posted at 7:10 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 21:11:18-04

OREM, Utah — The "Range Fire" burning in Provo Canyon was estimated at 3,450 acres and was 10 percent contained as of Monday morning. Investigators have determined the fire was started by a police officer who was target shooting at the Orem police gun range.

According to officials, there have been more than 1,000 human-caused starts so far this year, accounting for roughly 77 percent of the total wildfires this season.

"It's been a record year for human-caused starts," said Kait Webb, public information officer for the Range Fire. "The previous record that was set in 2015, we surpassed that in early September already."

Several factors have contributed to the record-setting human starts, but Webb said one of the biggest impacts comes from more people spending more time outdoors.

“Given the circumstances this year, there are a lot of people out recreating," Webb said. "That increases traffic, [and] increases public out in the woods, so the probability of those fires has increased just based on recreation.”

Webb added that the primary causes so far this year have been vehicle and roadside starts.

“So that would be something like a flat tire, or a dragging chain, parking over dry vegetation, or maybe an off-road vehicle driving somewhere where the vegetation is very dry,” she said.

And with the dry conditions and a statewide drought, the likelihood that fires will start is only increased.

"We just have not gotten the precipitation needed to reduce that fire risk," Webb said.

Although temperatures are beginning to drop, fire officials are still warning people to be cautious when spending time outdoors.

“It’s very important for the public to be keeping fire safety in the forefront of their mind," Webb said.

She said that under normal circumstances, people wouldn't have to think about fire safety this far into the year. But this year is not like any others.

"It's not a normal fire season — it's longer than most," she said. "We are generally not in fire restrictions at this time of year."

So, she is asking the public to do their part and help prevent another human-caused fire this year.

“The fire potential still exists, and until we get long duration moisture of some sort, we are still going to have high potential for these human-caused starts," Webb said. "It’s really essential the public helps us out and is very careful this time of year.”

In Orem, ground crews worked for the majority of Monday to build up the containment lines around the Range Fire. Air tankers and helicopters helped to battle parts of the fire that are burning on steep terrain inaccessible to firefighters. Officials reopened highway 189 through Provo Canyon, although one westbound lane remains closed for firefighter access.