‘Conditions are not typical this time of year’: Iron County suspends permits for nonagricultural burns

Scene of a brush fire in the fields south of 4200 West and Center Street, Cedar City, Utah, April 3, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

PAROWAN — Citing extreme drought conditions, Iron County officials are suspending the issuing of online burn permits and asking residents to be especially careful with outdoor fires of any kind.

Scene of a brush fire in the fields south of 4200 West and Center Street, Cedar City, Utah, April 3, 2021 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Iron County Commission discussed the issue during its regular meeting Monday, first hearing from Sheriff Ken Carpenter, who spoke of several recent fires that had happened within the county.

Carpenter said he and his deputies rely on a computer-aided dispatch system to know whether a fire is permitted and planned in advance, as is the case with most agricultural burns.

“We can look in the CAD and see that that’s a scheduled burn, and we can kind of keep an eye on it and help the fire service out,” Carpenter said.

However, Commissioner Mike Bleak said that given the unusually dry conditions, even permitted burns have been causing problems. 

“I can think of two or three different permitted fires over the last week that got out of control,” Bleak said.

Ryan Riddle, the Iron County Fire Warden for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands cited last week’s Choke Cherry Fire in Hamlin Valley as a prime example. That fire was initially started April 5 by a private landowner who had a burn permit, Riddle said, adding that the wind ended up spreading the fire out of control. One week later, the blaze is considered fully contained after burning an estimated 660 acres.

“We’ve still got a lot of resources out there monitoring it,” Riddle said. “There’s still heat on it. We’re still putting out hot spots.”

Screenshot from online burn permit application website indicating open fires are not permitted in Iron County as of April 2021

Riddle said the wind-driven fire exhibited “unbelievable” behavior, splitting into two as it tore through hundreds of acres of dry brush.

“It’s something that I would be more likely to see the end of June into July,” he added, estimating the costs of fighting the Choke Cherry fire are likely to run upwards of $250,000.

Riddle said that even though the permitted burn season technically opened on March 1, that calendar is subject to conditions.

“Conditions are not typical this time of year,” he said. “Mother Nature is forcing us to close it down in the interest of public safety and financial responsibilities.”

To that end, the county is suspending online burn permits effective immediately, Bleak said.

“If you need a burn permit, (a county official) can still issue those by hand, but they will be for agricultural type activity and not somebody that just wants to burn,” he said, adding that a county fire official will have to personally visit and inspect the site of the proposed burn.

Riddle noted that recreational campfires and cooking fires in a designated fire pit are still allowed, although users should exercise caution.

The following suggested tips for preventing wildfires, courtesy of UtahFireInfo.gov:

  • Fully extinguish campfires and avoid building fires when winds are 15 mph or higher.
  • Choose a target shooting backstop free of rocks and dry grass – any bullet hitting rocks can create a spark.
  • Avoid target shooting in during hot, dry and windy conditions.
  • Know the laws and regulations per county that prohibit the use of fireworks, paper lanterns, exploding targets and other incendiary devices. Such are prohibited year-round on BLM-managed lands.
  • Seasonal fire prevention orders and fire restrictions come in effect when conditions warrant such actions. Stay up-to-date on local orders and restrictions.
  • Avoid cutting, welding or grinding of metal in areas of dry vegetation.
  • Check to make sure trailer chains are not dragging and are secure to prevent sparks.
  • Fully extinguish and properly dispose of cigarettes.
  • Avoid parking a hot vehicle over dry grass.
  • Maintain tires, wheels and bearing on trailers to prevent mechanical failure.

Visitors to public lands are also reminded to be prepared with a shovel, water and fire extinguisher. 

For more information regarding fire management in Iron County, visit the county’s website.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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