ST. GEORGE — Dixie National Forest Service announced Monday the closure of Oak Grove Campground and the upper end of Browse Road due to extreme fire hazard. On Wednesday, fire restrictions on public lands will begin.
Using any type of vehicle on the restricted roads described below is prohibited on the National Forest System roads within the Pine Valley Ranger District of the Dixie National Forest due to a public safety concern, according to a press release issued by the forest service.
The Forest Service is temporarily closing the upper end of Forest Road at the junction with the Danish Ranch Road and the Oak Grove Campground, as well as the upper end of Browse Road for protection of public safety as concerns increase over the high fire danger in the area. The forest closure order went into effect Monday and will continue until the fire danger subsides.
Current and forecasted weather conditions coupled with extremely dry conditions and heavy fuel loading of vegetation throughout the local area have created hazardous fire conditions, the release states. As a result, all state and federal lands, and all unincorporated private lands in Southern Utah, are under fire restrictions. The closure of the Oak Grove and Browse areas coincides with the implementation of the fire restrictions to further protect forest users.
Nick Glidden, district ranger, said in the news release this is one of the worst years of drought they’ve seen.
“Vegetation is so dry and we need to take the necessary precautions to avoid unintentional wildfires and keep everyone safe.”
Fire and fuels management specialists monitor fuels conditions weekly, by measuring the energy release component of vegetation on the forest. This component is a combination of moisture in vegetation combined with temperature, wind and terrain to determine how much explosive energy a fire potentially has. Simply put, this measurement shows how hot and how fast vegetation would burn if ignited.
Current measurements around Southern Utah are breaking records highs showing high fire potential months early this year, the new release says.
Both the Oak Grove Road and Browse Road are single access routes in steep, narrow canyons with only one way in or out. That combined with heavy fuel loading and extremely dry vegetation could potentially lead to a dangerous situation.
“Our biggest fear is we have someone caught on one of these roads with a fire below blocking their escape,” Glidden said. “The steep canyon terrain and dense vegetation leaves few places to get out of the way should a fire start nearby.”
The Pine Valley Ranger District said they appreciate the public’s understanding and willingness to comply with these restrictions for protection of the forest’s resources and for public safety.
Kevin Abel, public information officer for the forest service, told St. George News the public should expect for these areas to remain closed for the better part of the summer.
“Until that hazard drops, we’re going to keep it closed,” he said.
BLM fire restrictions to begin
Beginning Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., the BLM will implement fire restrictions to prevent losses from human-caused wildfires brought on by extreme drought, high fire danger conditions, and the increased use of public lands in Juab, Millard, Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne and Piute counties. On Friday at 12:01 a.m., all remaining BLM Utah managed lands will enter restrictions, according to a press release issued by the BLM.
These fire restrictions will include multiple measures to help keep public lands safe and accessible as the risk of human-caused wildfires increases. Restrictions will also continue for BLM-managed public lands within Washington, Kane, Garfield, Iron and Beaver counties.
“Given the extreme drought conditions human-caused fires are the biggest threat to public lands right now, which makes using Fire Sense critical to our communities and businesses that rely on public lands,” Greg Sheehan, BLM Utah state director, said in the release.
“If we use Fire Sense and stop human-caused fires before they start, we can help our communities, we can enjoy public lands, and we can save precious fire fighting resources and water needed to fight those fires. The best way for you to help is to follow the restrictions. You know the fire drill.”
The phrase “you know the fire drill” is central to Utah’s new Fire Sense campaign, focused on common-sense practices to help prevent human-caused wildfires. On May 26, the state of Utah and the BLM launched “Fire Sense” – an interagency fire prevention campaign created to encourage and inform people on how they can change behaviors to prevent wildfires in Utah.
Chris Delaey, BLM state fire management officer, said in the release that they realized how dry it is out there and can see how the lack of moisture, combined with the heat and high winds, is a source of potential hazards when it comes to human-caused wildfires.
“Utah is our home and new fires in Utah are already causing road closures and evacuations,” he said. “We need everyone to use Fire Sense to help prevent devastating consequences to resources and communities. Firefighters have risked their lives on hundreds of preventable, human-caused wildfires this year.”
Across Utah this year as of mid-June 90% or 294 out of 326 wildfires have been human-caused, the release states. Nearly 300 fires could have been prevented and have put firefighters, public lands, and communities in danger. Among the most important restrictions to follow includes campfires.
The BLM allows campfires in permanently constructed cement or metal fire pits provided in agency-developed campground and picnic areas. When people use those fire pits, they also need to use some Fire Sense. Keep fires to a manageable size. Never leave a fire unattended. Have adequate water available and extinguish campfires using the “Drown, Stir and Feel” method. Devices fueled by petroleum or liquid petroleum gas with a shut-off valve are allowed in all locations.
Recreational target shooters should be aware of current weather and fuel (vegetation) conditions, especially Red Flag Warnings. Use safe ammunition and targets and find an appropriate backdrop void of rocks and vegetation.
Have a shovel and water or a fire extinguisher and only shoot in areas where legally allowed.
- No campfires using charcoal, solid fuel or any ash-producing fuel, except in permanently constructed cement or metal fire pits located in agency-developed campgrounds and picnic areas. Examples of solid fuels include but are not limited to wood, charcoal, peat, coal, Hexamine fuel tablets, wood pellets, corn, wheat, rye and other grains.
- No grinding, cutting and welding of metal.
- No smoking except within an enclosed vehicle, covered areas, developed recreation site or while stopped in a cleared area of at least 3 feet in diameter (10 feet in areas managed by the Moab and Monticello field offices) that is barren with no flammable vegetation.
- No operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order as determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers recommended practices J335 and J350. Refer to Title 43 CFR 8343.1.
- The non-commercial use/discharge of explosives of any kind, incendiary or chemical devices, pyrotechnic devices, exploding targets, pressurized containers or canisters and binary explosives.
- The use/discharge of any kind of fireworks as defined by this order.
The BLM fire prevention orders that outline fire restrictions can also be found online. Restrictions of specific activities will remain in place until human caused fires and fire dangers decrease.
St. George News contributed to this report.
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