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Sheep, humans clear out Utah fire fuels before disaster can strike

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jul 01, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — With conditions ripe for wildfires, Unified Fire Authority fuels crews are now working with Utah homeowners in clearing debris and any potential fire fuels that can help ignite or further spread a dangerous and costly blaze.

"If we do have a fire there, it reduces the heat and brings down the intensity and gives their home a better chance of standing alone," explained UFA Wildland Specialist Sterling Smith.

The debris removal helps create a bit of a fire break around homes, just one of the precautions everyone lives in urban-interfacing communities should be taking.

"Being prepared for those big seasons like the 4th and the 24th of July, and then having that safety in the back of your mind knowing you’ve done what you can to keep your home safe and then having those things in place like having the evacuation plans and go bag so in case anything does happen, you can actually get out and escape safely and doing that ahead of time is really important," added Smith.

Many fall into a false sense of security once the state has good water years like it's seen recently, but those seasons may actually make things worse as they create more vegetation that can light up in the right conditions.

"Even green stuff burns," said Smith. "So anything that is here that is a fuel, that's considered a fuel... so that would be branches, trees, brush, anything that’s green organic that can burn."

At Camp Williams in Bluffdale, the U.S. Army is enlisting the help of sheep to help clear fire dangers at the base.

"What [sheep] do is come out here, feed on the paddocks we have planned and then move them off," said Master Sgt. Andrew Riddle.

The sheep, which will be in the area for 5-7 days, also help mow down grasses near the base's range where live fire occurs, as well as on the east perimeter to keep a spark from the road from spreading.

All the actions have the same objective, to eliminate fast-burning fuels.

"Sheep are very important for the fire mitigation tool," Riddle said. "It’s another one of the tools in the tool shed."

The UFA's human crews clear big piles on lush hillsides.

"If they’re not actively fighting a fire, then they’re out here helping our public by mitigating those fuel loads," shared UFA Public Information Officer Benjamin Porter.

To keep everyone and everything safe, UFA is urging the public's cooperation.

"We can do everything we can, but fireworks are inherently dangerous," said Porter. "So it’s something that we have to keep in the forefront of our mind when we’re using them.

"Just make sure you’re doing them safe."

Firefighters say a little common sense goes a long way when it comes to enjoying the Fourth of July holiday; namely, have a way to extinguish a fire if one does start nearby and never light fireworks when inebriated, and don’t let children kids do them on their own.

CLICK HERE for more tips on how to have a safe holiday.