Early human-caused wildfires in Utah’s West Desert concerning for wildfire officials
West Valley City, Utah – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) West Desert District and Utah Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (FFSL) has seen an increase in human-caused wildfires early this year. Since mid-February, 13 human-caused fires have occurred, making up 100% of northern Utah’s wildfires in 2021.
“This year’s lack of precipitation in the West Desert and early increase in human-caused fires is concerning for wildfire officials, law enforcement, and land managers, said Geoff Wallin, BLM West Desert District Fire Management Officer. “Vegetation is drying out very quickly after each precipitation event and becoming receptive to ignition only a couple of days later, resulting in high fire potential conditions.”
“We encourage the public to heed all fire prevention recommendations and orders,” said Brett Ostler, FFSL Fire Management Officer. “Last year, 154 of the 170 wildfires across all suppression agencies in northern Utah were human-caused; a grim statistic that we do not want to repeat.”
Eight of the 13 fires in Utah’s West Desert were caused by target shooting and five of the eight were determined to be caused by exploding targets. Possession or use of any kind of explosives, incendiary or chemical devices, pyrotechnics or fireworks, or exploding targets are prohibited year-round on all BLM-managed public lands. Many counties have similar prohibitive laws that apply to State lands. The human-caused cases are being pursued for criminal charges and/or cost recovery.
Dry conditions due to low precipitation this winter, increased public use, and mats of unburned fuel from last year are resulting in above-normal fire potential. The 2020 fire season experienced a similar start with respect to precipitation and saw numerous early season ignitions and large fire growth as early as mid-April. On March 17, 2021, Governor Cox declared a state of emergency and issued an executive order due to the entire state being in moderate drought and 90% of the state experiencing “extreme” drought.
To prevent a wildfire, the public should:
- Fully extinguish campfires and avoid building fires when winds are 15 mph or higher
- Choose a target shooting backstop free of rocks and dry grass – any bullet hitting rocks can create a spark.
- Avoid target shooting in during hot, dry, and windy conditions
- Know the laws and regulations per county that prohibit the use of fireworks, paper lanterns, exploding targets, and other incendiary devices. Such are prohibited year-round on BLM-managed lands.
- Seasonal Fire Prevention Orders and Fire Restrictions come in effect when conditions warrant such actions. Stay up-to-date on local orders and restrictions.
- Avoid cutting, welding, or grinding of metal in areas of dry vegetation
- Check to make sure trailer chains are not dragging and are secure to prevent sparks
- Fully extinguish and properly dispose of cigarettes
- Avoid parking a hot vehicle over dry grass
- Maintain tires, wheels, and bearing on trailers to prevent mechanical failure
Public land visitors are also reminded to be prepared with a shovel, water, and fire extinguisher. State-wide fire restrictions and prevention orders can be viewed at: https://utahfireinfo.gov/active-fire-restriction-documents/.
For additional information, please contact the BLM West Desert District Office, at (801) 977-4300. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service (FRS) at 1-800-877-8339 to leave a message or question with the above individual. The FRS is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Replies are provided during normal business hours.
This year, we invite everyone to reimagine your public lands as we celebrate 75 years of the BLM’s stewardship and service to the American people. The BLM manages approximately 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.