State fire managers extend fire season, local and federal fire restrictions continue

A shot of the aftermath of the Cottonwood Trail Fire in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County, Utah, July 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah’s fire season, which generally runs from the beginning of June to the end of October, has been extended a month by state fire managers due to factors that continue to be a threat late into the season.

Area west of state Route 18 that was burned in the Veyo Road Fire that spread to more than 2200 acres overnight, Washington County, Utah, Sept. 28, 2020 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“Wildfire danger is extremely high due to extended lack of precipitation, warmer than usual weather and dry fuel condition throughout Utah,” a proclamation from the Utah Department of Natural Resources released Friday states.

The proclamation extended the state’s fire season to Nov. 30, which continues to ban open burning – such as debris burning and similar activities – on unincorporated state and private land across Utah as a whole.

The extended season will be rescinded as conditions allow, the proclamation states. Conditions will be evaluated on a daily basis, which may also allow some parts of Utah to allow burning before others.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it go statewide before,” said Mike Melton, a fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “It’s even worst than it was last year.”

The 2019 fire season was also extended, through that was due to a late, wet spring that produced an excess in vegetation that could easily go up in flames.

Turkey Farm Road Fire spreads across landscape shortly after it was ignited, Washington County, Utah, July 13, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Deanna Buchanan, St. George News

In September, municipal fire chiefs in Washington County joined together in postponing the permitted burn season due to fire concerns. The regular burn season usually starts Sept. 15.

The permitted burn season, a time used by many individuals to burn debris they’ve collected from around their property, has yet to be reinstated.

“We’re not going to permit any pile burns right now,” Melton said, and suggested that individuals with mounting burn piles put a tarp over the pile to keep it dry and ready for burning once conditions are safer.

Just because it’s no longer summer, it doesn’t mean the risk of wildfires has lessened, Melton said.

Washington County saw a number of wildfires over the summer, including the Turkey Farm Road Fire and Cottonwood Trail fires that burned a combined 14,000 acres through parts of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Both fires were human-caused.

According to the Utah Fire Info website, Washington County has experienced 151 wildfires and over 21,500 acres have burned as of Oct. 24. A majority of the fires within the county and throughout the state have also been human-caused.

Smoke billows from the Turkey Farm Road Fire in Southern Utah, July 14, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Gerard Dauphinais, St. George News

“All of these human-caused fires are preventable,” Melton said.

Federal land management agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, have also taken note of the continuing lack of rain that is perpetuating the increasing dryness of the region and chose to extend fire restrictions on public lands in September in Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne, Washington, Iron, Beaver, Garfield and Kane counties.

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

“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.

Fire restrictions on the Arizona Strip also remain in place.

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

Part of this article is a reprint from the original story published Sept. 19, 2020.

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

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