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Utah sees drastic drop-off in wildfires so far in 2022

Posted at 9:53 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 23:54:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s early, but the numbers are impressive. After years of recording 300+ wildfires ranging from one-tenth of an acre to thousands of acres in size before early June, state fire officials say just 181 wildfires have been reported this year as of June 8, 2022.

What may sound like a large number is actually a significant drop-off from years past.

In 2021, 326 wildfires were reported to interagency dispatch centers across the state by June 8.

In 2020, 350 wildfires were reported in the same timeframe. According to data published on an interagency wildfire dashboard and confirmed by state fire officials, nearly 600 acres have burned this year and of those 181 fires, 150 are ‘human-caused’.

“A lot of our fires are caused along the travel corridors they’re started by people pulling chains, blown tires, there’s off-roading of ATV’s, there’s a number of different things that can lead to a wildfire ignition when conditions look like this,” said Nick Howell, with Bureau of Land Management Utah’s Color Country District, which covers portions of southern and central Utah. “Fire activity is definitely picking up going into the month of June.”

Temperatures are expected to rise with fuels and vegetation having the opportunity to ‘dry out’ before the weekend, which is a point of concern for fire danger.

“It’s Sunday that we’re concerned about as winds increase from the southwest ahead of an approaching cold front,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, a meteorologist with Bureau of Land Management Utah who works out of the Great Basin Coordination Center. “June in many years ends up being our most active month. It’s typically the most active month across southern Utah before the monsoon takes the edge off of fire season by early or mid-July.”

Newmerzhycky, who says conditions look normal right now, is looking towards July for Northern Utah to feel the impacts of fire weather conditions.

“Our concern is the above normal will be for fire activity in the northern half of the state come July at the same time, it looks like the monsoon may set in and again take the edge off of fire season in the south,” said Newmerzhycky.

A variety of public awareness campaigns are put forth to remind Utahns of the importance of fire prevention and the dangers that fire can present around property.

“With the warmer weather that means drier fuel and that means easier ignition,” said Karl Hunt, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, mentions the importance of the collaborative statewide ‘firesense’ campaign. “Just as everyone’s getting out and enjoying that warm weather continue to use your ‘firesense’, take those intentional steps to limit those human-caused wildfires.”

Most wildfires in Utah are ‘human-caused’. Many of the fires sparked so far this year have been caused by vehicles that emitted sparks.

“Temperatures getting hotter, vegetation is getting drier so wildfire ignitions are on the uptick,” said Howell, who credits the fires in Southern Utah staying small thanks to interagency initial attack practices. “It only takes one spark to start a wildfire so anything that generates heat or generates a spark should be a concern.”