How long will recent rainstorms help Utah's wildfire risk?

Posted at 6:03 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 20:30:17-04

MIDVALE, Utah — On the first completely sunny day that the Salt Lake Valley has had since the recent storm, the potential for wildfire is low.

But as fire crews are looking at how our fuels are drying out, that lack of danger will be short-lived.

“It did help out… just a little bit, but it won’t for long,” said Ryan Love with Unified Fire Authority.

READ: Heavy rain, flooding hits Wasatch Front, Tooele area

The easiest way to think of fire danger is a clock that resets itself every time it rains. The "clock" counts down to when fuels are dry again.

Different types of vegetation have very different time frames for drying out, and Love says we have a varying degree where our potential to burn is.

"Cheatgrass, light fuels, and we also have large timber in our area as well," he said. "We divide those up into different categories.”

Those different categories are 10-hour, 100-hour, and 1,000-hour fuels which correspond to how long it takes them to try out.

But in 90-degree heat, that means with no rain in the forecast again, that only gives us about four days until the 100-hour fuels are dry again.

“Our fuel will be essentially dried out as it was before," Love said.

TODAY'S FORECAST: Utah gets a break from wet weather Tuesday

The recent storms brought a lot of rain in a short amount of time, which did not allow for the soil to soak up a lot of moisture for the fuel.

“Not a lot of it actually stuck and absorbed into the ground,” Love said. "A lot it ran off, and unfortunately the fuels didn’t get the moisture they should have gotten.”

The final issue with this storm is that it could have grown some light flashy fuels even more.

That's a concern in areas where homes meet nature, which is also called a "wildland-urban interface" by fire crews, where more growth of fuels could again dry out and become more dangerous.

The bottom line: These storms helped, and the reset button has been pushed, but the good effects will be short-lived.

“With this weather coming up again in the 90-degree temperatures in the sun, we are looking at the exact same fire potential that we had before," Love added.