Upcoming wildfire season predicted to be ‘average’ in Summit County
While Summit County residents should always be prepared for severe fire danger, Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer says early predictions are indicating residents can most likely expect an “average” wildfire season this year.
“As of right now, the national outlook is showing about average to cooler-than-average temperatures with above-average precipitation, which at this point is keeping the fire risk looking pretty minimal,” Boyer said. “But, it remains to be seen if that will change.”
Boyer based his comments off of the National Interagency Fire Center fire season predictions for April, May and June. A clearer picture of the situation typically emerges in May. Summit County’s fire season usually lasts from June through October and peaks in August, with the lower elevations typically seeing the most wildfires.
“But, in a wet year like we’ve had, we won’t start seeing fires until late June and July,” Boyer said.
The Summit County Council and fire officials have placed more of an emphasis on preparing for the upcoming fire season than in years past. Summit County, like most of the state, experienced an active season in 2018, with hundreds of acres burning from natural and human-caused blazes.
Officials have been regularly meeting over the last month with the municipal governments, homeowners associations, three fire districts and the Snyderville Basin Recreation District to come up with a way to mitigate the fire danger across the county. Boyer said a fire has already occurred this year in Echo Canyon. It was contained to less than an acre and likely started near the railroad.
“We’ve just been trying to get the word out,” Boyer said. “Over the past couple years with the California fires and the fires we have had, it’s gotten people’s attention. Now is the time as the snow is coming off to start doing yard work and getting ready before it gets hot and dried out. Not when the smoke is already in the air.”
Open burning is currently allowed unless restricted by a city or town ordinance. Boyer said he is getting about five to 30 burn permit requests a day.
County officials are working with the three fire departments to create a county wildland preparedness plan. Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright said the plan is different from the county’s emergency procedures that are already in place.
“We are looking at which areas are most vulnerable to wildland fire, coming up with ideas in how they will inspect those areas and perhaps come up with some enforcement actions in those areas,” he said. “But, I don’t think anyone has decided what the level of enforcement we are going to start with.”
The plan is still being finalized and is expected to be complete sometime next month, Wright said. He added, “We are going to have to come up with some ideas on how we are going to address this and what kind of financial support we can put into these plans.”
Fire mitigation and creating defensible spaces around homes can be costly, with removal of large dead trees typically running upwards of several thousand dollars.
“It looks like there will be some state money for some of these projects,” Wright said. “We just have to figure how to tap into it. My feeling is that we will have a better opportunity to tap state funds if we show we have a good plan and are willing to put some skin in the game.”
Chris Crowley, Summit County’s emergency manager, said the main focus has been on the neighborhoods and what individual homeowners can do on their own. He encouraged residents to visit the county’s website and download the template for the community wildfire preparedness plan.
Crowley highlighted the Park City Fire District and Summit County’s chipping programs. He mentioned the state also has a fuels mitigation program to help homeowners remove larger hazards, such as dead trees.
“It is never too early to start talking about this,” he said. “It really is about communities getting together to discuss their hazards and trying to build as much defensible space around their homes as they can. If we can’t get around your house, we can’t defend it.”
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