Flatline Fire sparks caution over upcoming wildfire season | ParkRecord.com

Flatline Fire sparks caution over upcoming wildfire season

The first local wildfire ignited after Summit County officials anticipated an earlier, more active season this year

On Sunday afternoon, a wildfire was burning in Wasatch County close to U.S. 40 between the Summit County line and the River Road traffic light. Wasatch County Fire and the Utah Department of Natural Resources were on the scene and requested air support to control the blaze. The fire consumed scrub oak and grass, but didn’t pose a threat to nearby structures.
David Jackson/Park Record

The first local wildfire of the season ignited west of U.S. 40 on Sunday afternoon, with firefighters still working to contain the last portion of the blaze late Monday night.

Wasatch County Fire responded to the first report of smoke around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday near the Flatline Trail in Wasatch Mountain State Park. As the brush burned, Park City Fire District crews along and other resources from across the state were called to help, while Summit County Emergency Management and the Summit County fire warden monitored the situation to determine if area residents would be impacted.

The county didn’t need to get involved with Sunday’s Flatline Fire, but Kathryn McMullin, the county’s emergency manager, said officials are always focused on emergency preparedness. Even before the weekend blaze, local leaders anticipated an earlier, more active fire season as the ongoing drought exacerbates dangerous conditions and limits the water supply.

“I would say this is a pre-season fire. They’re fairly typical and not too abnormal,” McMullin said. “The little bit of green there made it easier to contain.”

Emergency management officials rely on the county fire warden to gauge wind speed, humidity and how the fire is moving to help determine whether an evacuation is necessary. They also consider the threat to the relative location and nearby infrastructure. On Sunday, the greatest risk was to the highway.

McMullin said efforts have ramped up since the drought began and wildfires are expected to become more prevalent. As the summer progresses, hot weather and the lack of water will create more dead brush to burn. She said county officials also learned from last summer’s Parleys Canyon Fire, which led to more robust preparation efforts. Area fire districts also increased recruitment efforts with the aim of expanding staffing levels this year, McMullin said.

Officials have been focused on reaching out to residents to educate them about emergency preparedness and what to do if an evacuation is issued. McMullin said this includes teaching people to create an evacuation bag and working with all the homeowners associations in the Park City area to develop a plan.

“What would your response be? Where would you go? Build something based on those plans,” she said.

In the event of a fire, McMullin said, county officials will provide alerts and communicate with area residents about what’s going on through a local, and in some cases, a federal alert system. In April, Summit County launched a new alert system for Spanish-speaking residents after the Parleys Canyon Fire and the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for accessible information. If an evacuation is ordered, county officials plan to go door-to-door to make sure residents are aware of what’s happening.

The Flatline Fire remains under investigation but is believed to be human caused, according to Karl Hunt, a public information officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. The fire was mapped at around 25 acres, down from an expected 85 acres.

On Monday afternoon, the fire was around 30% contained. Around 9 p.m., it was close to 80% contained. Hunt said the Flatline Fire is part of a trend across the state. There have been 141 wildfires this year, 120 of which were human caused.

“It’s been dry out there and we’re hoping there are no more early starts. The nature of the beast [because of the drought] is that they’ll start earlier,” Hunt said. “With everything being dry, there’s increased risk in June and July.”

Hunt urges the public to practice common fire sense, which is part of a campaign to prevent wildfires. The initiative is in its second year and the state saw a decrease in the number of wildland fires last summer. Hunt encourages people using trails to make sure their equipment is well maintained because a tire popping or a chain dragging could cause ignition. Overall, the message is simple.

“Don’t cause a spark,” he said.

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