SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah counties have now been moved under fire restrictions as state officials brace for what could potentially be a rough summer of wildfires.
At a briefing before the Utah State Legislature's interim natural resources committee on Wednesday, the head of Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands said so far this year, they have recorded 195 wildfires and more than 1,000 acres have burned. That's actually an improvement over this same time last year.
But things will likely get worse.
"The fuels are dry, it’s really hot," said Jamie Barnes, the agency's executive director.
Garfield, Iron, Washington and Kane counties are currently under "Stage 1" fire restrictions. That prohibits fires except in designated areas; bans tracer ammunition and exploding targets; prohibits cutting, welding or grinding metal in areas of dry vegetation; and bans pperating a motorcycle, chainsaw, ATV, or other small internal combustion engine without an approved and working spark arrestor.
Grand and San Juan counties are currently under "Stage 2" restrictions which includes everything in Stage 1 — but also prohibits fires even in designated areas. Across Utah, cities and counties are rolling out fireworks restrictions ahead of the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day holidays.
The majority of wildfires so far have been human-caused, Barnes said, pleading with people to do what they can to avoid starting a fire.
"Everyone always wants to say they’re not going to be the person that starts a wildfire and that’s not reality," she said. "So please, use your fire sense when you’re out there recreating."
Resources are already being shifted across the state to respond to wildfires. For example, a helicopter has been relocated to Cedar City to quickly respond in southern Utah, said Brett Ostler, the Utah State Fire Management Officer. Efforts are also being made to cut down on grassy fuels in wildland urban interface areas, those spaces where wildland meets developed areas inhabited by humans.
Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, D-Cottonwood Heights, who requested the briefing, said she was contemplating some wildfire legislation in the 2023 session.
"Building codes in the WUI (wildland urban interface), that might involve changes so that we’re better prepared," she said.