County described as a tinderbox this fire season
June 15, 2012
On Wednesday, Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt told Summit County officials that, "We are living in a matchbox and disaster could strike at any time."
Statewide fire restrictions began Thursday, banning fireworks and fires outside of designated facilities. Summit County Public Works Director Kevin Callahan said that the rules are necessary since Summit County has already had more fires this summer than all of last year combined.
"We have put out over 30 fires so far, but luckily none of them have been larger than two acres," he said. "Other states are already battling huge fires and we are on the edge of critical drought conditions. We have coordinated a strategy with Park City and all the other entities to get the word out to the public about the high fire risk we have this summer."
Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said that between South and North Summit and Park City, there are more than 65 fire fighters who are certified to fight wildfires as well as many who are trained and in the process of certification.
"We have the gear and equipment we need and are preparing as much as we can," Boyer said. "We need to get up to properties near Tollgate and the Weber River and educate those residents on what they can do on their property to reduce the risk of wildfires and tell them to have an evacuation plan. We have two national forests in our county and are right on the edge of a third, this is a real different fire year and we need to be prepared."
The county has about $30,000 for fire suppression and around $700,000 in emergency funds. Boyer said the current strategy among the fire districts in the county is to have "the local guys" try to put out a wildfire first before calling in help from the state.
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Hewitt added that all three fire districts set the goal to act immediately anytime they see smoke.
"If we see smoke, we will put it out," Hewitt said. "This is one of those summers where we need to act first and just pull the trigger, not think about resources or cost. We want to educate the public about calling 911 any time they think there is a fire and become familiar with evacuation routes in their neighborhoods. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for people to have something packed and ready in case they do need to leave due to a fire."
Hewitt said he is meeting with all three ski resorts later in June to coordinate a fire-prevention strategy and, potentially, use their equipment to fight a fire.
"The ski resorts encompass a lot of land in the county and we need to have a system with them to reduce the risk of wildfires on their land and have them help us in case a fire is near them," Hewitt said. "We could use their snow making equipment to put out a fire and their ski runs as a barrier."
Park City Emergency Manager Hugh Daniels said that a wildfire could have "catastrophic economic consequences" for Park City and he will be alerting the media and residents anytime there is a "red-flag" fire day. According to a staff report prepared by Daniels, of the 100 wildfires that have occurred in Utah in 2012, 85 were caused by humans.
Fireworks bans will be in place all over Summit County during the July 4 weekend. The fire districts said they expect to prohibit fireworks in most neighborhoods around the county and near open fields. They also will be working with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to patrol neighborhoods around July 4 to make sure the restrictions are being followed.
"We are hoping for the best but planning for the worst," said Hewitt. "We really have a fuse on the ground right now and just need everyone to know about the fire danger we are facing this summer."
Statewide fire restrictions prohibit the following acts:
1. Setting, building, maintaining, attending or using open fires of any kind expect campfires built within the facilities provided for them in improved campgrounds or picnic areas.
2. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, building, developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barred or cleared.
3. Discharging or using any kind of fireworks, tracer ammunition or other pyrotechnic devices.
The restrictions will be in place until the fire hazard subsides.