Fire managers warn of increased fire risk ahead of July 4th holiday

The threat of wildfires continues to increase throughout the state as temperatures rise and more people get outside to recreate for holidays and vacations. Numerous communities have <a href=”” target=”_blank”>enacted fireworks restrictions</a> and several areas of the state have already seen <a href=”” target=”_blank”>large wildfires</a> scorch <a href=”” target=”_blank”>thousands of acres</a>.

Fire officials are warning people that increased wildfire danger exists across the state, and our heavy snow season is partially to blame.

“We had a really productive winter season with a lot of moisture, which in turn lead to a really productive growing season,” explains Chris Asbjorn, public information officer for the Wildland Fire Prevention and Education Team. “We’re seeing that abundance of fine fuels, primarily the grasses are abnormally abundant. There is a lot more than there typically is. We refer to this as fuel loading. It is 120% of average.”

When that is combined with a hot, dry spell, Asbjorn continues, those grasses turn into a very receptive fuel bed. It only takes a small spark to ignite a significant wildfire, and often those sparks don’t come from campfires.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a failed wheel bearing or a hub on either their vehicle or their trailer could in turn lead to (a fire),” he explains. “We’ve seen the whole wheel fall off with the hub and then that trailer lands on the asphalt and sends sparks everywhere.

“Maybe they didn’t hook up their safety chains completely with their trailer, or we’ve seen ratchet strap hooks that come unhooked on whatever load they have on their truck or trailer and that skips along the asphalt and sends sparks.”

Poorly maintained exhaust systems or even pieces of catalytic converter can also be responsible for igniting fires. Asbjorn says that if you plan on traveling with a trailer this summer, be sure to take a moment to do a walk around the vehicle or trailer and make sure maintenance is up to date. He then advises that you know before you go out what restrictions may be in place where you are heading. 

Fires are <a href=”” target=”_blank”>prohibited in large sections of Utah’s backcountry</a>, but not all. If campfires are permitted where you are going, Asbjorn asks that you make sure they are extinguished.

“Pouring water on it may not be enough,” he explains. “Those coal beds can be a number of inches deep. When they pour the water on it, the remaining coals, with a little bit of wind, can generate enough sparks to escape.”

He says when putting out camp fires everyone should follow a three step process: drown, stir and then feel, meaning hold your hand just above the surface. If you feel any more heat add more water until you don’t.

Asbjorn doesn’t want people to feel discouraged from having fun, but he just wants to make sure people are aware of the extreme fire danger that exists.

“They can play a part, every single person can play a part in preventing a fire this year. Like I said before, all it takes is one small spark to get it going. Everyone has the power to prevent one small spark. If we all work together we can make a significant difference to prevent any more incidences this year.”

If residents live in an area prone to wildfires, or near or around wildland areas, Asbjorn says it is important to have an evacuation plan and kit prepared before hand so responders can get in and do what they need to do to fight the fire.

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