‘Not a wise thing to do’: Washington County suspends burn season while BLM extends fire restrictions

ST. GEORGE — Due to the ongoing volatility of the fire season, local fire agencies have postponed Washington County’s burn season until further notice. The Bureau of Land Management also announced earlier this week that it is extending fire restrictions on public lands spread across several Southern Utah counties.

Hurricane Valley Fire Chief Tom Kuhlmann tells the Washington County Commission that fire danger in the county continues due to high temperatures and extremely dry conditions, St. George, Utah, Sept. 15, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Washington County/CEC, St. George News

“The area remains extremely dry and brittle,” Hurricane Valley Fire Chief Tom Kuhlmann told the Washington County Commission last Tuesday. “We had crews throughout the county fighting fires throughout the state of Utah.”

Due to high temperatures and extremely dry conditions, the permitted burn season, which usually starts Sept. 15, has been suspended until it is colder and hopefully wetter, Kuhlmann said.

“Fire chiefs in the area consulted with one with another and felt that (allowing permitted burns) is not a wise thing to do,” he said.

During this year’s fire season, area fire crews have also been sent to combat fires in Colorado, California, Oregon and Idaho.

“It’s not just Utah that’s dry – it’s dry throughout the Intermountain West,” Kuhlmann said.

Turkey Farm Road Fire seen in Washington County, Utah, July 14, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Mark Bergmann, St. George News

Utah’s official fire season runs from June 1 to Oct. 31. So far this season, Southern Utah has already seen a several of fires – most notably the Cottonwood Trail and Turkey Farm Road fires, which burned a combined 14,000 acres through parts of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

According to the Utah Fire Info website, Washington County has experienced 139 wildfires and nearly 19,000 acres have burned. A majority of the fires within the county and throughout the state have also been human-caused.

“We’ve had fires start with as little as a spark,” Kuhlmann said.

The Bureau of Land Management has also taken note of the heat and lack of monsoonal rains impacting the area, and recently extended fire restrictions on public lands in Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne, Washington, Iron, Beaver, Garfield and Kane counties for the foreseeable future, according to a press release issued earlier this week.

The BLM has also put restrictions on campfires and pellet stoves while camping.

A shot of the aftermath of the Turkey Farm Road Fire in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah, July 2020 | File photo courtesy of the Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee, St. George News

“Campfires are not permitted unless they are in an existing permanently constructed cement or metal fire pit at BLM-managed campgrounds,” acting Color Country District Manager Paul Briggs said in a statement. “People ask if they can bring their own metal barrels or dig a hole in the ground. None of that is OK. The vegetation is extremely dry, in many cases at record low levels of moisture. We’re asking for the public to help us through the remainder of this unprecedented fire season.”

Pellet stoves are also not permitted. Pellets still create ash that must be disposed of and could potentially cause a fire,” Paria River District Manager Harry Barber said. “We have to be vigilant about protecting our lands from human-caused fires when we have the type of unusual fire conditions that we are currently in. Right now, only devices like camp stoves that are fueled by liquid petroleum are allowed.”

Other restrictions include:

  • No grinding, cutting and welding of metal.
  • No operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order.
  • No possession and/or detonation of explosives.
  • No fireworks and incendiary or chemical devices, and pyrotechnics.

An extensive list of tips on how to prevent human-caused fires can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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