Once there is white stuff on the ground, the danger of a wildfire in the Park City area will be extinguished.
A state official who closely monitors forest conditions said this week lightning strikes could start a blaze and human-caused fires remain possible. Tyre Holfeltz, who coordinates state efforts to prepare for wildfires in populated areas for the Department of Natural Resources, appeared in Park City on Tuesday night, saying in an interview conditions remain conducive to wildfires.
He was in Park City as one of the featured speakers during an event at Park City Peaks Hotel focused on crafting what is known as a community fire protection plan. It was the first of four or five meetings that will take place through the end of October focused on the plan.
"Until it snows, they should be concerned," Holfeltz said about people who live in the Park City area. "It's hot. It's dry and it continues to be hot, dry into the future."
He said the danger of wildfires is increasing in evergreen forests. Those trees pick up moisture through the summer and then begin to dry out in the fall, making them more susceptible to fire at that time, he said. There are acres of evergreens throughout much of Summit County.
Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt, who was in attendance on Tuesday night, agreed that the wildfire danger continues even if it has been reduced slightly with the rains over the past few weeks. He said in an interview a few days of hot, dry weather like those in the past week increase the danger.
"The conditions have been somewhat alleviated. The concerns are still there. We're still in a drought year," Hewitt said.
The fire chief said the snowy 2010-2011 winter provided plenty of moisture for vegetation to continue to grow through this summer, creating fuels for a wildfire. He said there have been approximately 80 wildfires throughout Summit County this year.
There has not been a devastating wildfire in the Park City area or wider Summit County this summer, but officials have been jittery since the dry winter. The concerns reached their height in July, as the dry weather settled in and people prepared to celebrate the 4th of July and Pioneer Day with fireworks. Leaders in Park City and Summit County prohibited using fireworks during the summer and fall, including the two holidays.
A fire broke out just before Independence Day outside a house in the Aerie, burning a small sliver of land and sending up smoke that could be seen from numerous vantages across the community. Investigators said layers of plants, wood, bark shavings and other material spontaneously combusted. It was extinguished quickly, but fire officials said it could have spread quickly in different conditions.
The Tuesday event at Park City Peaks Hotel drew approximately 30 people, a combination of public officials, representatives from firefighting agencies and interested Parkites. They included Hugh Daniels, who manages City Hall's emergency programs, and Park City Councilwoman Liza Simpson. The Park City Fire District and the state were heavily represented.
The plan is expected to be completed by the end of October. Some of the sections will include an overview of the community and projects that could be undertaken to better protect the area from a wildfire. The next meeting is scheduled Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. the administrative offices of the Park City Fire District, 736 W. Bitner Road.
Speakers told the crowd there are 637 communities in Utah at risk of a wildfire and said Park City is one of them. They said embers pose great danger during a wildfire, describing that they can set fire to roofs and be carried between structures. Embers are able to travel up to seven miles but more typically move 1 1/2 miles if they are carried away from the fire.
In an interview, Holfeltz said people should be more aware of the dangers and that houses are vulnerable. He suggested nonflammable roofs and siding be used on houses and double- or triple-paned windows be used instead of single panes. He said people should check their yards to ensure a fire cannot easily move from a tree or a shrub to the house.
The series of meetings through October started as the state continues to suffer wildfires. The air in and around Park City on Tuesday was hazy with smoke from fires in the region. The Utah Fire Info website, a clearinghouse of information about wildfires in the state, indicated there had been 1,020 wildfires this year through the middle of the week. They had charred 422,112 acres. More than half of them were caused by humans, the website said.
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