Wildfire risk diminishes as nights cool, though experts caution the danger isn’t done | ParkRecord.com

Wildfire risk diminishes as nights cool, though experts caution the danger isn’t done

Summit County officials prepared for this past wildfire season by working with the three fire departments to create a county wildland preparedness plan.
Courtesy of Travis Petler

The cool nights and dew collecting on cars and lawns alike are reminders that the season is changing and the worst of wildfire season is likely over.

But the danger has not completely passed. Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said a warm, dry, windy spell of weather could make the wild grasses ready to go up in flame over the course of a single day.

He and other area fire professionals said this season was a relatively mild one, especially when compared to last year.

“It was a pretty mellow year,” Boyer said. “We had 58 responses in the county — that’s even the smoke (calls) and stuff, not all actual fires. Last year we were at about 120, and most of those were fire.”

Boyer said it wasn’t the slowest season he’s seen and that cool, wet conditions in spring are sometimes conducive to decreased fire activity. Normally, the area averages around 80-100 calls.

Boyer said as far as he knew, no structures have been lost and no personnel have been injured this season. North and South Summit fire districts both said their personnel have been safe, as well.

Boyer said he thought the severity of last year’s season — both here and in the West in general — might have encouraged residents to exercise more caution.

That’s a point echoed by South Summit Fire District spokesperson Scott Nagle, who said people have listened to the warnings about fire danger, especially in the Kamas Valley.

“We didn’t have many grass fires this year,” Nagle said, explaining those are the type that tend to be human caused. “Seems like in the past, we always had a few here and there.”

Boyer attributed it to fear instilled in people after the devastating wildfires last year, including the Camp Fire in California, which killed more than 85 people and left a path of destruction across 150,000 acres.

“But there’s still that group that (thinks), ‘Oh, it’ll never happen to me,’” Boyer said. “They’re the ones that keep me in the job.”

He said his crews have stayed busy with fire prevention and mitigation work, including home assessments that inform homeowners how to harden their homes against fire. In addition to advocating defensible space by clearing brush around homes, Boyer said things like putting grates over chimneys, sealing homes against embers and keeping lawn furniture inside can also increase a home’s fire resistance.

Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt called this season a mild one, but said the community should remain vigilant.

“Fire danger in the Park City area will … always be present,” Hewitt wrote in a text message to The Park Record. “Making structure exteriors more fire resistive will always be money and time well-spent.”

The Echo 80 fire was the largest in the county this year, Boyer said, burning just shy of 50 acres at the end of August.

North Summit Fire District spokesperson Tyler Rowser concurred about the season’s relative slowness, adding that has led to more maintenance for the district’s equipment because it’s not being used as much.

Nagle said things have also been quiet in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and South Summit crews have conducted prevention work and been called out to monitor planned burns by concerned residents.

Boyer said fires could still happen, but the cooler air and higher relative humidity overnight make it less likely a fire will last a long time.

His crews are focusing on burning piles of vegetation next, but he’s still monitoring conditions closely.

“This week, it’s supposed to be warm, dry and sunny — that’ll dry out those grasses again,” Boyer said. “It takes a day to dry out — with wind and sunlight on it — typically by late afternoon the grasses are ready to go.”

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