Communities pushed to adopt fire plans
May 24, 2006
Forecasters say wildfire danger won’t be extreme this year in Summit County.
"If the experts are expecting a normal year, I hope normal means no fires," Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott said.
But residents in many mountain neighborhoods must still enact community fire plans if they expect to receive grants to help fund prevention efforts.
"Predicting our wildland fire season is not an exact science," said Tracy Dunford, fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, in a recent press release. "However, indications are we’re entering this season pretty much the same as last year when we saw the heaviest fire activity in the southwest portion of the state."
More than 75 subdivisions in Summit County, however, are situated dangerously close to the county’s so-called urban/wildland interface.
Homeowners in these areas should maintain at least 30 feet of "defensible space" around their houses by clearing vegetation and flammable debris, Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said.
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Citizens in roughly 15 communities have established official procedures to evacuate their neighborhoods in case of a wildfire emergency.
"For a community to do a fire plan is just really a big deal," Elliott said. "Our goal with fire protection is to get all of the outlying communities to participate."
Residents in Pinebrook and Summit Park who adopted fire plans have received thousands of dollars from the government to fund fire prevention efforts, she said, adding, "a fire could just creep up over that ridge and wipe them out in a dry year."
Elliott praised Tollgate Canyon residents who are currently adopting a fire plan for their remote community near Silver Creek.
"Roads are pretty twisty, access is pretty bad and we’ve got a lot of fuel up there," Tollgate Canyon resident Diane Murphy said.
Wildfire and emergency access recently topped Tollgate residents’ list of concerns, she added.
"People have died up there from bee stings and heart attacks," Murphy said.
The Tollgate fire plan will improve maps and signage for the area, she added.
"Our approach is that we need to help ourselves," Murphy said. "The county is very much helping us to help ourselves."
Residents are encouraged to contact Summit County to schedule a free lot assessment. According to Summit County Public Works Administrator Kevin Callahan, officials in the past have examined about 135 of the 4,000 lots most at risk.
Meanwhile, experts are afraid of the effects moisture from a wet spring could have on fire conditions in Utah.
"Once again the extra moisture we’ve received is adding to the growth of grasses and other vegetation," Bureau of Land Management Fire Management Officer Sheldon Wimmer said in the press release.
This should persuade citizens in some of Summit County’s most wildfire-prone areas to adopt community fire plans, Elliott said.
"Fire danger is quite high all over Summit County," she added.
The Summit County Commission is considering an ordinance that would require developers attempt to protect homes built in wildfire zones.
"We’re looking at requiring fire-safe practices in building," Elliott said.
But, according to Callahan, "this is not being uniformly embraced."
"Primarily, I think it’s with the subdivisions where we’re running into the issue," Callahan recently told the County Commission. "Because we have so many housing units that are in our wildland fire areas relying on individual efforts to correct these problems in some ways is not taking full responsibility that we should have as a county."
Contact Boyer at (435) 336-3982 for more information about protecting property from wildfire.