Firefighters say danger in county is extreme |

Firefighters say danger in county is extreme

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Tinderbox conditions and the Fourth of July holiday have local officials on high alert for wildfires.

As firefighters battle a fast-moving blaze that has killed three people near Neola, officials in Summit County are bracing because fireworks, which are legal on the Fourth of July, are blamed for causing almost a third of the wildfires reported last year in the county.

Fire danger in Summit County hit "extreme" last weekend as persistent drought conditions, high temperatures and low humidity mean no rain is in sight, Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said.

"At least until we get a couple of days’ worth of precipitation, not just a passing shower," Boyer added in a telephone interview Monday.

Since a wildfire burning near homes scorched four acres near Kamas last week, Boyer said he has received several calls reporting large bonfires and a grass fire in Echo Canyon caused by someone shooting a bottle rocket.

"Campfires are still legal as long as they’re in an approved pit," Boyer said, adding that approved fire pits are made of steel with grates over the top.

Brush surrounding the fire pit should be cleared within three feet and overhanging vegetation should be 15 feet from the flames, he warned.

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"Fuel moisture has not been this low since the ’88 Yellowstone fires," when flames decimated the national park, Boyer said.

Though the Summit County Commission banned all fireworks on July 24, on Independence Day many people will enjoy private backyard displays, both legally and illegally, the fire warden said.

"[Fireworks] are legal at this point, but they need to be very, very careful while they’re having any kind of fires," Boyer insists. "It could get very expensive very quickly."

So far this year the Summit County Attorney’s Office is considering filing charges against several people blamed for igniting wildfires in Echo, Samak and the Snyderville Basin, to recover suppression costs.

"I didn’t yell and scream too much or make very much public notice last year, but the fire danger wasn’t as high and the extreme potential wasn’t there," Boyer said. "The costs for fighting fires this year is significantly higher because the fires get so big so quickly."

Summit County spent about $85,000 battling an 80-acre fire in Echo Canyon a couple weeks ago. A fire in Samak on June 27 cost taxpayers nearly $10,000 to douse, Boyer explained, adding that two juveniles who allegedly threw a smoke bomb from the window of a car started a fire in the Red Hawk subdivision on the West Side.

"I’ve been out on probably four of five where people have had big bonfires and have not had water on site," he said.

A fire Parkites could smell last Friday started in Provo Canyon from a spark generated by a lawnmower blade striking a rock, Boyer said.

On June 29, a small fire started near Interstate 80 in North Summit when somebody launched a bottle rocket from a car, he added.

"In the past years I have been pretty confident that we weren’t in a high fire risk," Boyer said. "This year, any fire that starts has a very high potential to become a very large fire very quickly."