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Urgent need to crack down on human-caused wildfires threatening Utah

Posted at 4:47 PM, Jul 18, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — With several wildfires having started in Utah as the temperatures heat up over the past few days, officials are hoping to lessen the number that are human-caused.

Having worked as a wildland firefighter for years across the west coast, Kelly Wickens Archer says battling fires on 100-plus degree days like are indescribable.

“Firefighter safety is always our top concern," she said. "Taking care of our people, the leaders on the fire, fire crews; try to stay vigilant and communicate with their crew, making sure everybody's doing okay.”

On Tuesday, firefighters were battling flames in nearly every corner of the state. The Utah Wildfire dashboard reported six new wildfires started within the previous 24-hour period.

"Right now, conditions are hot and dry. We haven't seen moisture in several weeks. We had a great winter. lots of moisture, which means also lots of vegetation. So that vegetation is starting to cure out and become much drier and receptive to fire,” explained Wickens Archer.

Unfortunately, she said the majority of the fires aren’t naturally caused.

“We've had about 300 fires for 2023 since January totaling 3,500 acres, and 161 of those have been human-caused, which is about 55% for human cause,” she said. 

A meteorologist with Great Basin Predictive Services believes natural causes may be coming soon.

"Every second or third day, there could be a brief shower, there will be lightning, so we will likely see some lightning starts, probably won't grow very large, very quickly, but it's definitely going to be above normal in terms of temperature," said Basil Newmerzhycky.

But while the high temperatures aren’t ideal, other conditions on the horizon are.

“Fortunately, a little above normal in terms of humidity as well," said Newmerzhycky. "That's good for wildfire where it makes a difference whether a fire goes 50 acres or 500 acres.”

Still, both Newmerzhycky and Wickens Archer say humans play a big role in how much of the state will burn in upcoming weeks.

 “We're seeing plenty of roadside starts this year. So with the fields along the freeways and roadsides carrying out, it's definitely a possibility," said Wickens Archer. "So make sure that your tires are inflated correctly and chains are not dragging and all the things we do to keep ourselves safe and wildfire safe as well.”

With Pioneer Day approaching, officials urge those using fireworks to first make sure it’s legal in certain areas and to douse them and campfires in water afterwards.