Fire restrictions now in place for some Southern Utah counties

ST. GEORGE — Due to an increasing risk of human-caused wildfires in Southwest Utah, officials have implemented fire restrictions in Washington, Iron and Kane counties.

The restrictions, set by Color Country Interagency fire managers, went into place Monday and include most lands which are unincorporated and privately owned, all lands which are state-administered, such as the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. 

According to a press release issued by Color Country Interagency, the following acts are prohibited in Washington and Kane counties until further notice: 

  • Igniting, building, maintaining or using a fire, including charcoal and briquettes, outside of a fire structure provided by the agency within a designated area is prohibited. All debris burning is strictly prohibited.
  • Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle, building or a developed recreation site or areas of a minimum of 3 feet in diameter cleared down to mineral soil.
  • Campfires are allowed in all developed recreation sites, campgrounds, picnic areas and home sites that are maintained and administered by the agency, or homesites where running water is present. Stoves or grills that are fueled solely by liquid petroleum fuels are also allowed.
  • Discharging or using any kind of fireworks on unincorporated private land, an act which is always prohibited on state and federal lands. 
  • Detonating fireworks, explosives, incendiary or chemical devices, pyrotechnics or exploding targets and tracer ammunition is also always prohibited on federal land.
  • Cutting, welding or grinding of metal in areas of dry vegetation.
  • Operating or using an internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order.

In Iron County, the only prohibition is on the detonation of fireworks, explosives, incendiary or chemical devices, pyrotechnics or exploding targets and tracer ammunition, which is always prohibited on federal land.

Those who violate these rules are subject to fines of up to $1,000 and may be responsible for paying suppression and rehabilitation costs as restitution. 

Smoke from the Skull Flat Wildfire burning five miles east of Beaver, Utah, June 27, 2019 | Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

This year, officials have made exceptions for several places, allowing fire use to continue as usual. One such area is the Kolob Terrace, which is east of Zion National Park and has so far remained very green, said Mike Melton, fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The other areas exempted from the restrictions are private lands surrounded by the Dixie National Forest, including Duck Creek Village, and private lands north of the intersection of Glendale Bench Road and Highway 89 in Kane County. 

Towns and cities are also excluded from the restrictions but have their own regulations regarding the use of fireworks, as the explosives are legalized for a few days out of the year around holidays such as the 4th of July. Fireworks rules and regulations, as well as an interactive map of locations where they are allowed, can be found online

Read more: Officials announce fireworks restrictions, dates and times allowed on 4th of July

“It’s under the recommendation of the fire chief to put these restrictions in place … It’s mainly a preventative measure,” St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said. “In our city, they’re not allowed within certain distances from hillsides and washes, and those are the areas that really have a tendency to burn quickly and with intensity. Once a fire gets going in those areas, it will really take off.” 

Fire danger in Southern Utah is considered high this year and is increasing daily due to high temperatures, low relative humidity and wind combined with excess grass growth after an exceptionally wet winter and spring.

Read more: Spring precipitation in St. George breaks 61-year-old record

Cheatgrass and other flammable vegetation has already cured in lower elevation areas and is beginning to dry in high elevations as well. Grass fires are easily ignited by even a single spark and spread rapidly, even if they don’t appear to be dry. 

“Just because they may think it’s green, doesn’t actually mean that it’s safe to pop fireworks or safe to do anything,” BLM spokesperson Christian Venhuizen said. “If there is a fire restriction covering that area, it’s there for a reason.” 

The BLM offers several tips for preventing wildfires: 

  • Keep campfires small and extinguish them completely, so that embers are cold to the touch of your hand.
  • Dispose of cigarettes properly.
  • Stay on established roads and trails to avoid igniting dry vegetation with hot exhaust pipes or brakes.
  • Keep trailer and safety chains secure to avoid sparks caused by dragging metal on the ground.
  • Alert authorities if you see any smoke or wildfire and always practice fire safety when outdoors. Contact 911 to report a wildfire.

Color Country has seen a few human-caused fires already this year, though the total number of incidents has gone down significantly over the past several years.  

In 2012, Melton said there were 12 prosecutions against people who set a fire by being willfully negligent or malicious, a record number. In the past two years, however, there have only been two. 

“I’ll give credit to the people of Southwest Utah that, for the most part, they heed these restrictions and we’ve seen a decrease in human-caused fires,” he said. “We just need them to keep that record up.” 

Fire managers may continue to add additional fire restrictions as necessary. It is recommended to verify current restrictions with a local land management agency or fire department before conducting any fire-related activities. 

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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