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Crews across Utah say wildfire season may be more dangerous than usual this year

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SALT LAKE CITY — Fire crews across the state are preparing for a wildfire season that is expected to be more dangerous than usual.

This winter’s drought, combined with heavy snowfall the year before, creates extremely dangerous conditions.

“People always ask if it’s a wet winter or dry winter that leads to a worse fire season, and the answer is always: yes,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, a predictive meteorologist at the Bureau of Land Management.

Grass and brush remaining from the winter of 2017, and trees that are dry from this year’s drought, act as fuels that can help a wildfire grow out of control.

Newmerzhycky predicts the high fire danger will begin later this month in southeastern Utah.

“Once every five or so years, we have a big concern for the latter part of May,” he said. “It’s with the exceptional drought that plays a big role in that.”

That threat will grow to include the majority of the state in June.

“As you look around, it’s pretty green,” said David Whittekiend, a supervisor at the U.S. Forest Service. “But it won’t be long until the hillsides turn brown.”

He expects northern Utah will see an active fire season in June and July.

“It’s not something that I look forward to, it’s always stressful,” Whittekiend said.

He says 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. He hopes everyone hears the message to be careful and does their part to prevent a disaster.

“Think before you want to have a campfire,” he said. “If you do have a campfire, before you leave, make sure its dead: out. Put water on it and test it with your hand.”

Preventing a spark that could lead to a disaster will save wear and tear on firefighters during what is expected to be a busy spring and summer.

“It’s hard on the public. It’s hard on firefighters,” Whittekiend said. “But, we always make it through.”

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