A rainier climate this year could cause more vegetation to burn, officials say.
Utah’s wildfire season could start later this year, due in part to frequent storms sweeping across the state, experts say. But it could also be more intense.
Usually the season peaks in July or August, but this year the Unified Fire Authority is planning a peak in September.
That’s because a rainier climate this winter and spring has made places that would normally be most at risk of blaze wet and those areas will take longer to dry out, said Kelly Bird, spokeswoman for the United Fire Authority.
“This year is very different from previous years,” he said. “We assume that it will take a while.”
Higher risk at lower altitudes
In dry years, higher elevations are typically most at risk. But low-lying areas are most at risk in a rainy year like this, said Phillip Dennison, a University of Utah geography professor who specializes in wildfire research.
According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, rainfall this year in Utah is already above the 30-year average. All that rain makes plant growth much denser at lower elevations, Dennison said, which becomes a hazard once they “harden up,” or when they dry out enough to become a fire hazard.
Although wildfires could start later, the extra rain will likely nourish plant life and result in an excess of what officials call “light, showy fuels,” Bird said.
In the western portion of the Salt Lake Valley, these fuels include grasses, shrubs, and sagebrush, which are more difficult to contain before wildfire season.
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Damage control teams in the eastern Salt Lake Valley have been cutting down trees and clearing major fires from urban areas for about a month.
But foliage in the west is not so easy Clear out, because there’s nothing to cut down — it’s mostly below-the-knee plants, Bird said.
The key will be seeing what the wind speed is later in the year, Dennison said, adding that red flag warnings – which indicate warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds – “are going to be really important to determine.” , how many fire ignitions lead to big fires.” .”
Crews ‘wait and see what happens’
Despite the delay, officials continue to advise caution as “fireworks season” begins in the valley, Bird said. Fireworks should not be fired on lawns or public areas, but should instead be set up over sidewalks. He encouraged those celebrating upcoming holidays to follow the regulations closely.
“We’re still asking people to look at the restriction map,” he said, pointing to a map from the Unified Fire Authority showing where fireworks are banned. “We want people to continue to be diligent.”
Those guidelines apply to people across the state, said Karl Hunt, spokesman for the Department of Forestry, Fire and State Land.
“I like to say that the southern part of the state is deceptively green,” Hunt said. “But it’s still dry.”
Be sure to put out a campfire and stir it up with a shovel, he said, and don’t tow-chain a trailer, which can cause sparks. When using a firearm on a shooting range, provide a clear backstop to prevent bullets from also sparking.
“Use Firesense,” he said. “Fire sense is common sense.”
Since the department’s Fire Sense campaign began in 2021, the state has seen a 60% decrease in man-made wildfires.
“We’re grateful that Mother Nature has given us a little reprieve here,” Hunt said. “But our crews are ready and we’re waiting to see what happens.”