ST. GEORGE- Due to extremely dry conditions, the 2022 Color Country fire season is kicking off early in southern Utah. Authorities are urging the public to help contain the fires.
Color Country area firefighters gathered in Zion National Park on Wednesday to ask the public to help contain potential fires. Color Country includes all unincorporated counties, states and federally administered public lands in Washington, Kane, Garfield, Iron and Beaver counties and the Strip of Arizona.
There has been little to no rain for the past 90 days in southern Utah and the Arizona strip. Ty Mizer, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Band Fire Management Officer, said the dry conditions combined with little to no snow accumulation in the mountains are impacting the region’s dryness.
“It affects our fire behavior there,” Mizer said. “Any drought relief that we saw last fall has basically been wiped out. We are going to see higher fire intensities and more resistance to controlling some of the wildfires.”
This winter’s lack of snow also points to a fire season in which fires will occur at higher elevations, Mizer said. High altitude fires in the woods could last a little longer than typical fires. He said this would result in longer exposure times for firefighters on the ground and in the air.
Greg Bartin, fire management manager for Zion National Park and the Utah Parks Group agreed.
“In Utah, we typically have fire restrictions between late May and June,” Bartin said. “And with dry conditions as they are right now, we expect fire restrictions to arrive in three to four weeks.”
When visiting parks and public lands, Bartin said firefighters notice where visitors build campfires. For example, in Zion National Park, the campfire must be inside a ring of fire in a campground. If you’re recreating in an area that allows campfires outside of a ring of fire, he advises against making fires near dry leaves or brush.
“We ask you to follow fire sage tips, that is, when you completely extinguish your campfire. Don’t just leave it, but leave it cold, wet and choppy,” Bartin said. “It’s a great way to not cause an unwanted wildfire in a place where we want to go camping.”
When visiting Zion National Park, if one is not in a designated campground, fires are completely prohibited. Visitors can use camping stoves to cook their meals if they are outside a campground.
“In the Zion’s Wilderness on the plateaus, campfires are completely prohibited,” Bartin said. “We are asking people whose camping stoves are in these locations to cook their meals.”
Some of the park partners, federal land managers for the Forest Service, BLM, and the State of Utah allow campfires and other places that the National Park Service does not allow. The season came early and all groups went into fire restrictions depending on the conditions.
Bartin advises campers and outdoor enthusiasts to use sense of fire. Avoid areas of dry grass where it is windy when starting a fire. Also, avoid anything that could start a forest fire.
“The sense of fire is common sense. The trick is just to use it. You already know that heat or sparks plus dry grass equals a lot of trouble, so next time you’re camping or shooting or enjoying the great outdoors in our great condition, use your brain before things get too hot. to manage,” the website reads.
The four stages of Fire Sense include:
- Sliding the chains causes pain: Secure the trailer chains to make sure they don’t drag and cause a fire.
- Hot car, dry grass, bad ash: Do not park a hot car or recreational vehicle in dry grass.
- Stop the sparks in your tracks: Tractors, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment must be equipped with spark arresters.
- Tip-Top tire shape: KKeep trailers and RVs properly maintained, including tire pressure.
Southern Utah is one of the busiest fire zones in history during the summer months. Thus, all public and federal agencies share resources.
“Typically, on average, we pump between 1 million and 1.5 million gallons of fire retardant, and we have plenty of resources,” said Dixie National Forest Service engine captain Skeet Houston. “We have a lot of fires, generally on average, a 10 year average Color Country breakdown starts about 350 fires a year.”
Houston said it was one of the worst fire-affected areas in the country. Twenty-seven fire truck engines range from Type 3 to Type 6, and the five cooperating agencies share additional municipal fire engines.
“They are essential to our needs,” Houston said. “Often they are the closest response and first response with fires breaking out in or near communities, so we use them a lot. We really appreciate their help.
Another fire management resource is manual crew; the Forest Service has a Cedar City Hotshot team of 25 people. They are also a national resource. They are based in southern Utah, but are often elsewhere to help others fight fires.
Houston said that in this region, agencies also regularly share two fire bulldozers and two tank trucks. They also have planes and an air attack platform, a plane that flies and keeps its eyes on the forest. The aircraft recommends aerial resources and helps firefighters on the ground know where things are, like a second set of eyes, as they attack fires.
Additionally, two single-engine air tankers are smaller retarding aircraft that are helping to deal with Houston’s forecasted wildfires, which are expected this year. He said a Type 3 three helicopter with a 10-person attack crew from St. George with the Arizona Strip and two more of the larger Type 1 helicopters are available.
One of the large Type 1 helicopters is under contract with the Forest Service and is currently in the Southwest helping with the fires. Houston said the State of Utah plans to have a Type 1 helicopter in Utah soon. Oversized air tankers are a national resource and may be requested by local agencies to assist. Still, these federal helicopters could be linked to other national fires.
Keeley Yardley, communications coordinator for the Utah State Division of Wildfires and Lands, said all agencies rely heavily on interagency work.
“It’s a super important piece; we would not be able to fight wildfires in the state of Utah as successfully without interagency work,” Yardley said. “So it’s a great collaboration.”
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