Utah officials expect normal wildfire season
By BRADY McCOMBS
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A healthy dose of late spring showers helped improve drought conditions in Utah and has generated optimism among state officials that the wildfire season will be manageable.
Several large fires are still likely, but Utah is at less risk than many Western states including California, said Bureau of Land Management meteorologist Shelby Law this week at a news conference. Law says Utah’s drought peaked in 2012 and has been improving since.
After a lackluster winter for snowpack and a dry early spring, the state received much-needed rain in April and May, Law said.
“It came just at the right time to allow some of our vegetation to take up the moisture and really green up,” Law said.
The western and southwestern parts of the state are still in moderate to severe drought, making them most at risk, she said.
At its disposal to fight wildfires, the state has more than 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines and several hundred aircraft, said Cheryl Probert, deputy forest supervisor on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
The extended weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures this summer, Law said, with an expected El Nino expected, which warms part of the Pacific every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world.
“What that means for us is that we might actually see less severe fire conditions this summer than otherwise would happen,” Law said. “We may not be quite as hot for quite as long this summer.”
The summer of 2013 was the hottest on record in Salt Lake City, shows data from the National Weather Service. The average temperature of 80.7 broke the previous record of 79.3 sent in 2007. July was the hottest month on record in Salt Lake City.
Rain showers are usually helpful to prevent wildfires, but can also bring lighting which can cause wildfires.
Last summer, a lightning-sparked wildfire fanned by high winds destroyed a dozen homes as it near a Utah resort town.
Despite this summer’s positive outlook, wildfire officials said it’s still imperative that people practice caution out in the forests to prevent human-caused wildfires.
“It’s easy to be lulled into a sense of security when you look at how green things are,” said Tracy Dunford, Fire Management Officer with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “It’s not going to be last.”
Gov. Gary Herbert is urging state residents to be cautious and careful with campfires, fireworks and firearms to prevent wildfires.