Amy Roberts: Where there is smoke | ParkRecord.com

Amy Roberts: Where there is smoke

Red Card Roberts

By Amy Roberts
Park Record columnist 

I've had the symptoms for a few weeks: watery, itchy eyes. A sore throat. A dry nose that seems to be on the verge of falling off from having been rubbed so often. It's not a cold or even the pollen in the air. It's from the smoke.

Currently, there are seven wildfires in the state, burning from Brian Head to Box Elder County. The Brian Head fire alone has burned more than 43,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained. Neighborhoods have been evacuated and people have lost property.

Despite our wet winter, Park City is still at risk. We always are. There's a ban on fireworks and open flames in the city limits. It's a preemptive measure, aimed at eliminating unnecessary risk and ensuring public safety. But despite the order, people will still roast marshmallows in their backyard fire pits, and the sky will still be lit with color on the Fourth, and we will all still be startled by an unexpected crack, pop and boom several days before and after the holiday.

There are good reasons for the ban, but enforcement is tricky. It is kind of the same situation with another one of the city's bans. Camping in the city limits is also prohibited, but apparently somewhat challenging to enforce.

Despite our wet winter, Park City is still at risk. We always are. There’s a ban on fireworks and open flames in the city limits.

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For several years, there have been campsites along the hillside above Prospector. I've stumbled across them a few times while out hiking. They've grown over the years, and many have become inhabited year round. Most area residents have been well aware of the camps for years, and the general feeling seemed to be, "live and let live."

Even when police reported 10 campsites on the hillside, along with a lot of trash, human waste, and drugs and alcohol earlier this summer, neighbors kind of shrugged and said it was unfortunate, but no one seemed too concerned.

But then the situation made the news. And it was reported an unattended fire had been left burning on the hillside near one of the camps. When that happened, homeowners in Prospector, lower Deer Valley, The Aerie and Chatham Hills started paying more attention. Online groups were created, emails went out, discussions were had on front porches. Apparently, human waste was tolerable, but the line was drawn at an open flame. The response from the city was something like, "We are aware and are monitoring the situation."

But a few weeks after the campsites made the news, I heard through the neighborhood rumor mill some homeowners had received a notice from their insurance company citing the news stories and stating their property was now in a high-risk area for wildfires. As such, their insurance premium was increasing.

That sure got people fired up again.

Monitoring the situation is only acceptable until someone gets an unexpected bill from their insurance company.

Still, no one seems to have a real solution.

On one hand, we have a housing crisis, and it's not illegal to be homeless. On the other hand, it is illegal to trespass, and these camps do pose a serious public safety and health concern.

The city owns the land the campers are squatting on. But so far, eviction notices have only resulted in the campsites moving to another location on the hill. Occupants have been offered transportation to a homeless shelter in Salt Lake, but police say they refused. One officer said the campers seemed "determined" to live on the hillside.

What do you do with that? Jail doesn't seem an appropriate place for misdemeanor trespassing. You can't force someone to live in a shelter 40 miles away. Yet, why should homeowners be required to pay higher insurance premiums due to a problem on city-owned land? Or hikers be subjected to walking through areas littered with human waste?

I don't know how this will get resolved. But if something doesn't happen soon, I imagine there will be fireworks.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.