Summit County has reached an agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help reseed the areas affected by the Rockport fire last month. If all goes according to plan, new, more fire-resistant plants could be introduced by October.
Kevin Callahan, emergency manager for Summit County, said the contract with the NRCS has been signed and that a contractor has begun work on around 60 sites in the Rockport area as of Monday morning. Help will also come from the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
"We're looking at reseeding towards the end of September and into the first two weeks of October," Callahan said. "We'll be watching the weather, looking for prime conditions. We'll look for when we have a 10-day forecast of nice, stable weather where we have significant moisture that would be the window that they would do the aerial seeding."
Fencing will also be installed in certain areas to capture soil in the event that a significant amount of precipitation falls. The fencing will prevent any water and sediment runoff from further eroding hills and covering roads like State Road 32.
For the aerial seeding efforts, Callahan said they will be using a variety of around 20 different native grasses that are more fire-resistant. Scott Walker, Habitat Manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, will be in charge of reseeding in the Rockport area.
"We're using a combination of grasses, forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) and shrubs that are beneficial to wildlife and that still hold soils," Walker said. "We want to get on top of this seeding with a good seed mix to try to reduce the cheatgrass that's going to be coming in."
Cheatgrass is an invasive, dry, perennial grass that increases wildfire risk. Walker says the DWR will recommend planting native grasses such as bluebunch wheatgrass, Great Basin wild rye, Russian rye and candy bluegrass. Forbs such as penstemon and fire-resistant plants such as forage kochia will also be planted.
Oak brush, a wildfire hazard, Callahan said is native to the area and will resprout in the future. Walker is hoping that the seeds planted take hold and show progress come next spring.
"There's not a lot we can put on right now that's going to establish prior to winter," Walker said. "We hope for good establishment and a good, cool, wet spring. Moisture in the soil will help establish [the plants] by next spring."
Walker added that he thinks the cooperation between the NRCS, Summit County and the DWR has been great and he hopes to complete seeding efforts by the end of October.
"The hills [at Rockport] are very steep. The vegetation that we had there was pretty spotty before. There will be a much better ground cover," Callahan said. "It will take a couple of years to be fully fed in and be effective."
Homeland Security grant
The county is also looking to receive a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Requests have been placed for the Summit County Sheriff's Office,
the South Summit Fire District, South Summit Ambulance, the North Summit Fire District, North Summit Ambulance, the Park City Fire District, Park City Ambulance and the Park City Police Department to recoup some of the fire fighting costs incurred last month.
Callahan says Summit County is the "umbrella agency" that receives money from the state and acts as the conduit to pass it to agencies that need it. They have a formula that identifies each agency's financial needs. The total costs for all those agencies in the county he says should be around $40,000.
The needed funds for these agencies Callahan said are mainly for equipment, communications and training.
As far as the total overall costs of the Rockport fire, the county will not know those numbers until at least next spring. Since the federal government is on a different budget year than the county, Callahan said it could take a while to hear back.
"It's not going to be a fire that's going to cost Summit County a great deal of money," Callahan said. "It will probably be a quarter of a million dollars from our end under $100,000 after in-kind donations are factored in."