Outlook calls for ‘below average’ fire season in Summit County, but officials say that can change fast
Fire officials around Summit County are cautiously optimistic about the outlook for this fire season, but say things could change with one extended hot, dry spell.
Tyler Rowser, a spokesperson for the North Summit Fire District, said the county is in good shape so far.
“Everything’s still green, we’re still very lucky,” Rowser said. “The grasses are our fine fuels (and it) doesn’t take them very long to dry out. Once the moisture goes away, it can dry out very quickly.”
The county’s fire warden, Bryce Boyer, said this wildfire season looks to be about average or below average, but cautioned about the low level of confidence in projections that reach into the summer.
Fire season typically stretches from June to October, with things ramping up in the hotter months of July and August. But Rowser said there have been recent years when there have been fires as late as November.
“Fire seasons, I don’t think there is a normal for them anymore,” Rowser said. Though things are green now, he said “we’re not not going to have wildfires.”
Park City Fire District Marshal Mike Owens pointed out the outlook is based on current weather patterns.
“If we don’t get the expected moisture, things will change and wildfire risk will increase pretty quick,” Owens wrote in an email.
He explained the “below normal” outlook means that there will be times of “extreme fire danger,” but that those times will be shorter than in other years.
This time last year, there had already been nearly 50 fire calls, Boyer said, whereas this year that number is eight. The fires have all been caused by humans, with “three or four” related to work on railroads near Echo Canyon.
He estimated the county responded to 85 or 90 fire calls last year.
The wet weather and relative lack of fires so far might mean the issue isn’t front-of-mind for residents, Boyer said, but it would be a good time to work ahead to lessen a property’s susceptibility to fire.
“It’s up to each individual land owner to manage their land and do their part to maintain and mitigate their properties,” Boyer said.
He said the weather allows a perfect opportunity for homeowners to harden their homes against fires and establish defensible space that allows firefighters to effectively battle a potential blaze.
“Areas that have leaves and needles blowing into them, that’s where embers from wildfires would blow,” he said. In addition to cleaning out those “beds of fuels,” Boyer recommends removing deck furniture, welcome mats and “anything that would be receptive to embers.”
The county’s defensible space guidelines are available at co.summit.ut.us/561/Fire-Warden. They call for maintaining a perimeter 30 feet from a structure with an “irrigated greenbelt” like a well-watered lawn, thinning trees so their branches are 10 feet off the ground and their crowns are 10-12 feet away from the closest neighboring tree, and removing any dead limbs, leaves or potential fuel sources.
Owens urged homeowners to remove all dead and dying vegetation from within five feet of their homes.
“It’s a really good year to do things around your home when you have the whole season, the summer months (to work on it),” Boyer said.
But this type of landscaping work can be expensive, and the county is working to secure state grant money to help offset some costs for homeowners. It also offers a wood-chipping service to residents, which will start up again June 24. A link to the reservation request form can be found at the fire warden’s website.
One of the first steps to securing funding is having a county-wide fire plan, what Boyer called a “50,000-foot-level view” on the current status and needs around the area. Even though he said many state grants are “drying up” and the mandate is coming down to the counties and cities, County Council member Glenn Wright said it’s something the elected officials will look at in budget discussions for the next fiscal year.
“Our biggest need is to have people go to people’s houses and give them advice … about what a firewise guard looks like around their house,” Wright said at a Council meeting earlier this month. He said he’d heard estimates that the effort could take around 10,000 man-hours to accomplish within the county, but he stressed the importance of the issue.
Boyer also encouraged local municipalities to complete community fire plans.
The warden said he’s approving five to 10 burning permits per day, Monday through Thursday. He asked anyone interested in burning brush or a debris pile to request a permit by a Wednesday, as he does a sweep of site visits across the county on Thursdays. He added that backyard fires in improved fire pits are still allowed as long as they don’t violate rules or laws set by homeowners associations or local municipalities.
The county so far has not banned fireworks for the Fourth of July.
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