Summit County’s wildfire threat sparks community forum
Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright was volunteering at an event in Park City during the fall when a constituent randomly asked him if a devastating wildfire could occur here in Summit County.
Wright was relatively uninformed about the topic, but immediately answered in the affirmative. The question was posed around the same time that larger wildfires were hitting the western coast of the country, particularly in Washington, Oregon and California, and the smell of smoke was lingering around Summit County.
Once Wright conducted more research on the topic, he discovered the county was just as susceptible to a massive wildfire as places in other western states.
As local and state officials start to gain a better picture of what the upcoming wildfire season will be like, Project for Deeper Understanding, a Park City issue group, plans to host a panel discussion to address the threat and inform community members about what they can do to reduce it.
“We could be on the verge of a really bad summer,” Wright said.
The forum, titled The Era of Mega-fires: Is Summit County Next?, will address the potential for wildfires and what homeowners can do to reduce the potential danger in their own backyards. It is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The two-hour event will also include a question-and-answer segment with the audience.
The discussion will be divided into two parts. The first will address U.S. Forest management. “Over the last 90 years or so, we have had poor forest management practices,” Wright said. “Those issues are much longer term and we have to work with the Forest Service to improve the forest’s health, but it’s a conversation we need to be having.”
The second part of the discussion will focus on the Wildland Urban Interface, which designates which areas are more susceptible to blazes. Wright said some of the neighborhoods that could face a blaze are Summit Park, Pinebrook, Sun Peak, Weber Canyon and Samak, among others.
“I want to scare the hell out of people who have houses in the forest because that’s an area where we can do something about it,” he said.
Chris Crowley, the county’s emergency manager, said one of the greatest natural threats in the county is wildland fire. He said the forum is intended to better inform people throughout the community of that risk.
“It’s about reducing fuels and hazardous materials around their home and creating a defensible space,” he said. “It’s so we all have an understanding of what our roles and responsibilities are, and how we will ultimately react as a community if we are faced with that danger.”
We live in an environment, Crowley said, where a wildland fire could spark at any moment. He added, “It’s important to be aware of our surroundings and cognizant of that threat.”
Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said longer dry seasons, less water and snowfall, and, perhaps, global warming, are all increasing the risk of devastating fires throughout the country.
“It’s not just the West anymore. It’s becoming a national issue,” he said. “Fire does play a part in that cycle, but we also need to balance that with the fact that people have moved into those areas that are more susceptible, so you need to be able to protect your property and maintain the fire ecosystem.”
The selected panelists for the forum are: Darren McAvoy, extension assistant professor of Wildland Resources at the Utah State University; John Blazzard, of Blazzard Lumber in Kamas; Daniel Jauregui, district ranger for the Heber-Kamas District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; Mike Owens, fire marshal with the Park City Fire District; Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer; and Summit County Emergency Manager Chris Crowley. Wright will act as the moderator.
For more than a decade, the Project for Deeper Understanding has held forums to raise awareness about pressing issues. Recent forums have included discussions about Medicaid expansion and fake news, as well as growth and traffic.
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.