Summit County fire warden on fire restrictions: ‘It’s that dry out this year’ |

Summit County fire warden on fire restrictions: ‘It’s that dry out this year’

County attorney vows prosecution for violations

A historic drought has led to dry wildfire conditions in mid-June. Fire and fireworks bans, as well as a vow to prosecute violators, have followed.
Courtesy of Utah Wildfire

State and local officials are rescinding fireworks permits, banning activities that could lead to wildfires and vowing to prosecute people who violate restrictions in an effort to hold the line against fire conditions that are more dangerous than normal amid a historic drought.

Multiple blazes have cropped up across the state in recent days, including two near Summit County’s borders. Fire officials tell of bone-dry vegetation, high winds and a water shortage that increases the negative impacts of fighting any fire.

Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said on Thursday that the county has been relatively unscathed so far. There weren’t any active fires within the county and hadn’t been any since a few escaped planned burns in April. But he said that could change rapidly, and that the unusually dry weather had pushed fire conditions to levels normally seen in the middle of summer.

The dry conditions have already proven problematic elsewhere in the Wasatch Back.

On Tuesday, an inadvertent spark from a piece of heavy machinery eventually turned into an 835-acre blaze near East Canyon State Park.

A spark from a piece of heavy machinery caused a fire at East Canyon State Park in Morgan County that grew to 835 acres by Thursday. Fire crews were able to get control of the blaze, but officials say the dry conditions in the Wasatch Back and elsewhere in the state are concerning.
Courtesy of Utah Wildfire

“It was acting like a late July, early August fire,” Boyer said, adding that the fire was erratic, fed by high winds and dry fuels and completely consuming underbrush.

By Thursday evening, the fire was 90% contained, according to Utah Fire Info, a state-run fire information resource.

Another fire sparked near Summit County on Thursday, this one near Wasatch Mountain State Park. Firefighters were able to contain it to a half-acre, according to Utah Fire Info.

Even though the hillsides in the area might look green, Boyer said there isn’t much moisture in any of the plant life. The soils are the driest they’ve been since data began being recorded 15 years ago.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “That’s why we went into the statewide fire restrictions.”

Those restrictions ban fires unless they’re in established fire pits in improved campgrounds or at a private home with a pressurized water source nearby, prohibit smoking unless within an enclosed space like a vehicle and ban spark-causing activities like cutting or welding metal or operating an engine without an approved spark arrestor.

The restrictions cover unincorporated land statewide — places not within the boundaries of a city or town — as well as all state lands, and went into effect Thursday.

Violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said her office would prosecute citations issued by local law enforcement agencies, though she indicated she hoped that stance would inspire people not to violate the orders in the first place.

The burn scar from the East Canyon Fire, which by Thursday evening was 90% contained.
Courtesy of Utah Wildfire

“All it takes is one fire,” she said. “… If someone is building a fire in violation of the restrictions, they will be aggressively prosecuted. That’s hopefully a deterrent to people who might think, ‘I’m not going to comply,’ or ‘My fire isn’t going to matter.’ We need everyone to do this together.”

State fire officials banned the use of fireworks on all state and unincorporated lands in an order that went into effect Wednesday. In a newsletter Friday, Gov. Spencer Cox said he hadn’t ruled out a statewide ban on fireworks.

The Park City Fire District rescinded two permits it had issued to a large fireworks events company, according to Boyer and County Manager Tom Fisher.

Fisher said those permits were for events to be held at the Canyons Village base area of Park City Mountain Resort and the Utah Olympic Park.

A representative of PCMR owner Vail Resorts did not say whether the July 3 fireworks show scheduled at Canyons Village would be canceled, but said the resort was still planning to host live music during the celebration.

Boyer indicated that even large-scale, professionally produced fireworks shows would be harder to conduct this year, both because of fire risk and Cox’s order meant to mitigate historic levels of drought.

“Most of the time, you wet down the shoot area, the perimeter fallout zone where debris and shells can go down, so it’s damp and not as susceptible to igniting,” Boyer said. “With the governor’s drought executive order, it doesn’t really fit with it.”

Cox ordered cities and counties to immediately consider imposing the same watering restrictions that he’d imposed at the state level, including limiting the number of waterings to two per week and prioritizing trees and shrubs over grass.

The latest lawn watering guidelines advocate “survival watering” and foregoing watering grass, which can recover after periods of dormancy.

Boyer asked that people make sure that campfires are cold to the touch before leaving them. He said he remembered a year in the early 2000s when the state went into fire restrictions early, but never as early as this year.

“If people would just be really mindful, follow those restrictions, be very, very careful with any kind of material that could spark … it’s that dry out this year,” he said.

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