SALT LAKE CITY — With portions of Utah already in extreme or exceptional drought so early in May, fire authorities fear an active wildfire season in the months ahead that could eclipse what the state has experienced since 2012.
“It’s very unusual for us to issue an above normal risk for wildfires for May,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, a meteorologist and program manager with the Bureau of Land Management’s Great Basin region.
That early advisory is for the southeastern section of the state, which so far, is in the most severe drought categories.
As the summer progresses, however, the increasing fire risk spreads to other areas of Utah.
The BLM meteorologist said hopes for a wet spring are drying up as quickly as moisture from the last storm, and June, July and August look to be drier than normal in Utah.
Conditions lead him to believe that this year’s fire season could be as active as 2012, which saw agencies burn through $50 million in suppression costs.
The BLM joined the U.S. Forest Service, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Salt Lake City Fire and United Fire Authority in a Thursday media event in City Creek Canyon to implore residents to be mindful of wildfire danger, both in their own communities and when venturing to the outdoors.
“Partnerships are key,” said Clair Jolley, the BLM’s acting assistant fire manager in Utah. “Fire knows no boundaries. … We need the cooperation of the public.”
Dave Whittekiend, supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forests, said agencies are seeing longer fire seasons and wildfires that are more difficult to contain.
“The fire season is almost upon us,” he said. “As you look around, things look pretty green, but it won’t be long before they are brown.”
Last year in Utah, 62 percent of all fires were human-caused — fires that Whittekiend says are unwarranted.
“Fireworks and campfires are a huge issue for us.”
In 2017, 100 Utah wildfires occurred in the wildland-urban interface, the populated areas that border forests and rangelands. Those fires destroyed 19 homes and 26 other structures.
This year, there have already been controlled burns that have gotten away from people and threatened damage, said Brett Ostler, state fire management officer with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
“This season could be busy for us,” Ostler said.
Ostler urged residents to go online atfirewise.org to learn how to prepare their home for wildfires and reduce risks.
The division also awarded the first-ever plaque of recognition to Heather Farrar, who with her late husband, Will, led a fuels-reduction effort at Kolob Reservoir that spanned several years.
The division said as a result of their efforts, hundreds of residents in three subdivisions are safer, and the watershed that serves thousands in the St. George is better protected from wildfires.
A tool to learn how to assess individual homes and communities for wildlife risk is available at UtahWildfireRisk.Utah.gov