Partners work together to refresh the Thompson Springs fuel break in Utah

By: Jason Kirks, BLM Canyon Country District Fuels Program Manager and JB Clay, BLM Canyon County District Fire Management Specialist

Fuel break with cleared vegetation, blues skies, and clouds.
Photo by: Paul Plemons, Canyon Country District Fuels Technician 

On the evening of December 22, 2020, the community of Thompson Springs experienced a devastating structure fire. As the structure fire grew, it started to move through the vegetation along the eastern side of town, threating other nearby residences. The vegetation in that area is mostly cheat grass, greasewood, and rabbitbrush. Human or lightning-caused fires easily start and spread in these types of fine fuels. With only one firefighter in town, the community of about 100 people located 38 miles north of Moab, Utah recognized the need to clean up vegetation to help keep their town safe.

Members of the community contacted the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands and asked that the two agencies to help strengthen the previous fuel break on the western side of town. 

In July, the BLM, Grand County Weeds Department, Thompson Springs Fire Department, and Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands completed a retreatment of the fuel break at the request of the local community. The fuel break was first created in 2005 to decrease the wildfire threats to public and aid in firefighter safety in the event of a fire in or around Thompson Springs. It creates a solid 20-foot buffer, nearly free of vegetation for firefighters to use in case of an unplanned ignition. Retreatment efforts included applying herbicide to cheatgrass (a quick-burning invasive weed) and using equipment to remove large vegetation creating a 20-foot buffer. 

The community of Thompson Springs now has a fully-functioning half mile long fuel break on the west edge of town. Firefighters will be able to maintain a safe position and use the fuel break to gain a tactical advantage if a wildfire occurs. This would not have been possible without local support, cooperation amongst partner organizations, and hard work.

What’s next? 

The BLM in cooperation with the Grand County Weeds Department, plans to apply treatments to the fuel break again this fall. Re-treatments will help keep the area clear of vegetation.

Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands and the Thompson Springs Fire Department continue to work with private landowners to potentially extend the fuel break from Interstate-70 to the railroad tracks north of town. The fuel break extension would provide increased support for fire suppression efforts if they become necessary.