Utah expands fire restrictions in 20 counties ahead of Pioneer Day weekend
Fire restriction signs are posted around Boulder, Garfield County, Sunday, June 26. (Jay Hancock, KSL-TV)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Summer monsoons over the past few weeks have helped alleviate some dry conditions in Utah, but state and federal fire agencies say they haven’t been widespread enough to reduce problems in most of the state.
“We’re still super, super dry in a lot of areas,” said Kayli Yardley, fire prevention and communications coordinator for the Utah Division of Forests, Fires and Lands.
So, as Utah heads into Pioneer Day weekend, interagency fire officials in Color Country, Central Utah, and Northern Utah have begun implementing new fire restrictions in nearly all unincorporated counties, states, and federally managed lands in 20 of the state’s 29 counties.
The new restrictions, which went into effect Monday, prohibit any campfires or open fires outside of agency-approved and maintained campgrounds and hospitality sites, as well as the firing of explosive targets or tracer ammunition.
Fireworks are already prohibited on state or federally managed lands and unincorporated areas. The new restrictions will not change the rules for municipalities that have set their own locations for lighting fireworks over Pioneer Day weekend.
Other restrictions include:
- No cutting, grinding or welding of metal in areas with dry vegetation. Acetylene torches are also prohibited in these areas.
- No use of off-road vehicles, chainsaws, or internal combustion engines in enclosed areas without a functioning and properly maintained spark arrester.
- No smoking near vegetation or outside a developed recreational site, personal vehicle or building.
- Sky lanterns, Chinese lanterns, incendiary balloons, acetylene balloons or similar devices are prohibited.
The counties described are:
- Box Elder
- The iron
- salt lake
The restrictions also apply to lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Wasatch and Summit counties. Exceptions are the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Manti La-Sal National Forests.
The double-edged sword of the monsoon
There have already been 582 wildfires this year, entering on Tuesday. Although that’s down 10% from the same time last year, 133 of the fire starts occurred in the past week, according to Yardley.
A handful of human-caused fires occurred earlier in the month, including the Halfway Hill Fire, this year’s largest fire to date, which prompted Utah Governor Spencer Cox , to remind Utahns about outdoor fire safety.
Chris Delaney, Utah State Fire Management Officer for the BLM, explained that despite monsoon humidity over the past few weeks, the vast majority of the state remains in extreme drought, which is one of the main reasons conditions are still dry across the state. At least 83% of Utah remains in extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.
“While the moisture we received was much needed, it was not enough to reduce our wildfire risk,” he said in a statement. “We still need every Utahn to use their sense of fire and be a responsible user of public lands when enjoying the outdoors.”
Monsoon storms can be something of a double-edged sword for firefighters, adds Yardley. Humidity can be very beneficial for dry conditions, but thunderstorms can also produce lightning, which has caused quite a few fresh starts over the past week. They can also lead to vegetation growth that dries out quickly when hot, dry conditions return between storms.
“We might have this tendency for a drying period which will impact the rate at which these new fuels harden. It can (add) an extra layer of fuel,” she said. “Yes, we need rain, but it also depends on how the weather will go next.”
Fire conditions are still severe enough to increase restrictions in parts of 20 counties.
Utah fire experts say it’s critical people check local restrictions before heading out to recreate outside of Utah. They hope the Deuel Creek, Halfway Hill, Jacob City and Sardine Canyon fires – all man-made – are a reminder of what can happen when people make bad decisions outdoors.
“These were completely avoidable man-made departures,” Yardley said. “And it’s important for Utahns to bring that home with them and realize that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be careful and use safe practices when working with fire.”