SOUTHERN UTAH – With the outlook of the 2013 fire season in the western states looking severe according to the National Interagency Coordination Center, officials are emphasizing interagency cooperation and public awareness. In Southern Utah, Color County Interagency fire managers are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst and urging the public to do the same.
According to a press release from the Color Country Interagency, there are currently 111 communities in the interagency’s coverage area – Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties and the Arizona Strip – that are considered at risk from wildfire.The region experienced multiple fires last year, and while a fair number were triggered by lightning strikes, an estimated 119 fires were also human-caused.
Overall, there were 478 wildfires across Color Country Interagency territory in 2012 that torched an estimated 107,000 acres.
“Human-caused fires have really gone up in the last two-to-three years,” said Nick Howell, fire mitigation and education specialist with the Bureau of Land Management. By comparison, “lightning-caused fires are down,” he said.
While human-caused fires are up, in Washington County they are actually down. In 2012 the county had 19 human-caused wildfires ignited on federal and private lands that required fire suppression. In 2011 there were 28.
Human-caused fires are started by a broad array of factors, Howell said. They can include, but are by no means limited to, the following examples:
- Sparks created from metalworking near an ignition source
- Sparks created by chains dragging behind a vehicle traveling near an ignition source
- Target shooting and explosive targets
- Improperly discarded cigarettes or cigars
- Unattended campfires and campfires in non-designated areas
- Burning toilet paper
“Most human-caused fires are extremely preventable,” Howell said. Many fires can be prevented by the simple application of common sense, he said.
A more detailed treatment on the factors behind human caused fires and how to avoid them can be found here.
Fire mitigation and defensible space
As in previous fire seasons, fire and land managers are engaging in various fire mitigation practices.
“A major mitigation practice being used near and in communities is called ‘Hazardous Fuels Reduction,’” the press release read. “Large scale fuels reduction projects on public land are conducted to remove vegetation that present a special hazard to communities.”
Fuel reduction basically involves removing dead vegetation and other ignitable materials from designated areas on public and private lands. Up to 13,000 acres of public land in Southern Utah is cleared every year due to fuel reduction efforts.
Aside from removing potential fuel for wildfires, the mitigation practices “help restore the landscape for better wildlife habitat and rangeland/forest health.”
It also provides fuel breaks between wildfires and communities in areas described as “wildland-urban interfaces,” places where unoccupied and undeveloped land transitions into human development. Land cleared around a structure next to wilderness area is also known as “defensible space.”
It not only provides a buffer between the fire and a structure, but also gives firefighters a safe place they can enter to better combat the blaze if necessary.
A dramatic example of fire mitigation via a fuel reduction break can be seen in a photo taken in the wake of the New Harmony Fire that ignited in late June 2012. That fire claimed seven structures and numerous outbuildings and vehicles and over 1,800 acres before it was extinguished. In the photo two homes are shown sitting atop a hill surrounded by burnt-out forest, yet remain untouched by the recent blaze.
As fire season approaches, homeowners are encouraged to take action now to create the defensible space needed around their homes to survive a wildfire and to provide firefighters with a higher chance of success in protecting structures.
The public can get involved by joining their local community fire council and by contacting the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands at 435-586-4408.
Private, state and federal cooperation
“One of our greatest strengths in wildfire management is that Federal, Tribal, State, and local government agencies recognize that the challenge is too great for any one organization to tackle on its own,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, Monday.
Jewell added: “As regions across the country face serious risks of wildfires this season, the work ongoing at the National Interagency Fire Center is important to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect lives, communities and our natural resources. The public also has an important role to play, and I encourage homeowners and communities to take proactive steps when it comes to preparedness, prevention and safety.”
According to the Department of the Interior, significant fire potential is predicted to be above normal in much of the West for 2013, including almost all of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Idaho; and portions of Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Washington.
In 2012, 9.3 million acres of private, state, and federal land, and more than 4,400 structures burned in wildfires. That was the third highest number of acres burned since at least 1960, the earliest date with reliable records.
A recent example of interagency cooperation in Southern Utah involved multiple fire agencies from across the five-county area that gathered in Ivins to take part in exercises geared toward combating wildfires.
Typically, fire season starts the first week in May and runs through mid-October.
- Santa Clara Fire Department quells runaway controlled burn – example of ‘defensible space’ at work
- Multiple agencies take part in wildland-urban interface firefighting training
- Fire mitigation efforts save homes
- Human Attention Means Fire Prevention: Tips to Stop Human-Caused Fires
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