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Utah on track for mildest wildfire season in 10 years

Published August 30, 2010 12:10 am

Environment • A wet spring and sparse lightning have kept fire threat low.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah is on pace this year to record the lowest number of wildfires and acres burned by blazes in nearly a decade.

"It's been a very unusual year," said Ed Delgado, the Eastern Great Basin predictive service program manager. "We are well below average."

As of Aug. 24, officials had recorded 841 wildfires and 9,825 acres burned in Utah. The year with the next fewest fires this decade was 2008, when three times more acres — 28,490 — burned in 999 reported fires.

A wet spring that lasted well into June and healthy monsoonal rains without much lightning in July and August helped keep Utah green. But no single weather factor accounts for the mild fire season, Delgado said.

"We've just seen a pattern that's not conducive to fire in the Great Basin," he said.

Fire restrictions were not implemented in Utah's wilderness areas this year, nor were they in 2009 or 2008, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock. She credited a fairly normal snow melt this year, a cool spring and an unusually low amount of dry lightning.

Since 2002, six fire seasons have burned more than 100,000 acres each. The worst was 2007, when a record 620,730 acres burned. That was the year the Milford Flat fire, the largest wildfire in Utah history, burned more than 363,000 acres in Beaver County.

By comparison, this year's largest wildfire is the Twitchell fire, which started July 20 and is still burning in Fishlake National Forest. As of Aug. 23, it had blackened only 4,482 acres.

Over the past five years, the average annual number of fires has been 1,327, with 283,295 acres burned, said Jennifer Jones, National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman.

"The activity [this year] is definitely way below normal," she said.

Delgado said many of this season's fires have been "single-tree" fires caused by lightning. They occurred randomly throughout the state, not in a particular area.

"Everything around [the tree] was so green it didn't spread," he said.

Humans started 354 of the fires this year, burning 3,999 acres, records show. Lightning caused the other 487 that burned 5,826 acres.

Although the fire season doesn't officially end until mid-September, and grass and brush below 7,000 feet are now dry, weather conditions aren't expected to warm up enough to cause a new fire threat this year, Delgado said.

jbergreen@sltrib.com

Mild wildfire season

Utah this year is on track to record the mildest wildfire season on record this decade.

Year Fires Acres

2010 841 9,825

2009 1,136 112,753

2008 999 28,490

2007 1,423 620,730

2006 1,844 340,572

Source • National Interagency Fire Center