Fire officials: Summit County experiencing ‘below-average’ fire season
In an area prone to hot and dry weather and often plagued by the threat of wildfires, Summit County is, so far, relatively unscathed.
The county’s fire officials say the season, which is more than halfway through, "has been very good so far" and no major incidents have been reported.
"It has been a below-average wildfire season for sure and would rank in the bottom of the last five years," Paul Hewitt, Park City Fire Department Chief, said.
The Park City Fire District hasn’t had "any serious or significant," fires this year, Hewitt said, citing the above-average precipitation as the cause.
"We’ve had very little fires and any fire that we have had has been rapidly extinguished," he said. "We’ve had a very mild wildfire season and I’m optimistic that the season will end as it started, but that doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off the fall."
The Park City, South Summit and North Summit fire districts have received fewer calls and responded to fewer fires than in the past several years, according to Bryce Boyer, Summit County Fire Warden.
"We are probably at half or less of what we’ve been having over the last four years at this point," Boyer said.
Boyer stressed that calls are coming in and fires are happening, but the incidents that are being reported are minor.
Boyer and two Park City fire engines responded to a fire at the Jordanelle Reservoir Monday afternoon, but did not provide assistance.
The South Summit Fire District responded to a grass fire between Kamas and Francis Monday morning at 1 a.m., Boyer said. The fire encompassed three-fourths of an acre and is still under investigation.
However, Boyer said the only thing that burned was some "dried out pasture grass." Once it reached the native grass, it slowed itself down, he said. The fire was contained within 45 minutes.
Last month, North Summit responded to several brush fires along Interstate 80 that diverted traffic or closed portions of the Interstate, but all the fires were extinguished within an hour.
"Everything is like one-tenth of an acre or less," Boyer said. "A couple have burned themselves out by the time we get to them.
"Back in March we were concerned because everything was so dry and we had been watching it," Boyer said. "But from that point on it has been not a big deal because we we’ve had a lot of rain."
The area’s unusually high precipitation and the "monsoon rains in May" soaked the vegetation, or fuels, Boyer said. That pattern has continued throughout June and July and will likely do so through the beginning of August, he added.
"We’re looking at moisture coming in on Sunday and with these winds blowing in a cold front, it will be cooler for the next day or so," Boyer said.
Glen Merrill, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Salt Lake City, said May was the sixth wettest on record since 1874. Since the beginning of the fire season, Merrill said the temperatures have been cool and the precipitation above normal.
"We went into the beginning of the fire season extremely wet and have only had one period of it being really hot," Merrill said, referring to the beginning of July. "The fuels haven’t been critical at all this year in Summit County or any of the northern mountains anywhere."
With the end of the season in sight, Boyer and Hewitt sounded confident it could end without a devastating fire like the ones that occurred at Rockport in 2012 and 2013 during late July and early August.
"At this point, unless something drastically changes, we’ll be able to have a really, really mild year," Boyer said. "We are going to have fires, but they are not getting big like a Rockport."
Boyer and Hewitt cautioned that the end of July is typically the most active point of the season. The threat is still there, they say, while reminding people to be cognizant of weather conditions when burning.
"We still encourage people to make sure they have water if they are burning campfires and that kind of stuff and burn permits are required for anything larger than a cooking site campfire," Boyer said. "If people use common sense and don’t burn in winds like we have had and be responsible, we will be alright."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.