Utah’s wildfire season seems to be under way

There may still be snow in some of Utah's mountains, but it appears that fire season is under way. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

SALT LAKE CITY – Entering late April, it appears that Utah’s wildfire season is under way. Fires have been reported in areas of northern Utah, including a 75-acre brush fire near Utah Lake earlier this month. 

Jason Curry with the State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said farming practices seem to have sparked many of the blazes.

“They’re where people are doing agriculture-type operations like burning fence lines and ditch banks – wherever you have those types of operations,” Curry said.

Anyone who causes a fire, even unintentionally, can be held liable for the cost of fighting the blaze, Curry warned. He added that the southwestern part of the state may be at greatest risk for wildfire this year, due to the ongoing drought. 

Meanwhile, University of Utah Associate Professor of Geography Philip Dennison recently released his research on the steady increase in both the number and size of wildfires in the western U.S. He said warmer temperatures and ongoing drought due to climate change may be a cause of the alarming trend. The number of wildfires over 1,000 acres in size in the region between California and Nebraska has increased by seven fires per year since 1984, he found.

Curry said the majority of wildfires are human-caused, but discarded cigarettes and still-burning campfires are not the main origins. During the height of wildfire season, sparks from a vehicle’s exhaust system, blown tires or brakes start many wildfires.

“We do see a lot of roadside fires,” Curry said. “Our investigations show that it’s really more of an issue of vehicle maintenance, like brakes; the exhaust system is probably the most serious part of that whole equation.”

According to fire prevention officials, vehicles should never be parked in tall grass or shrubs where fires can start because hot catalytic converters could come in contact with dry vegetation. Also, firewood and other flammables should be stored well away from homes and other structures, and vegetation near a home should be pruned or removed to limit the amount of possible fire fuels.

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