Utah wildfire fears rise as holiday fireworks season looms
With wildfires already charring large swaths of the state amid some of the worst fire conditions in decades, officials worry that the upcoming July Fourth weekend could unleash a new round of fireworks-sparked blazes.
Utah already has banned fireworks all over the state allowing them only in incorporated cities and some townships such as Kearns and Magna.
Even some cities where they are legal have imposed restrictions. Salt Lake City, for example, has prohibited fireworks in the foothills and canyons, including around the University of Utah.
"We at the state level are doing everything we can under the law to make sure we're wise and prudent in how we conduct ourselves," Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday. "Until that ban is lifted, you can't use [fireworks in those areas]. And we've called upon our mayors and city councils to use the ordinances they have to restrict the use of fireworks to the fullest extent of the law they can do."
Detective Levi Hughes, spokesman for the Unified Police Department, said no additional patrols are planned and that deputies will respond based on the risk to the public.
Fireworks in residential areas pose less of a threat, he said, "but if we get a call that out there close to Magna, near one of those big, open dry fields â¦ that they're lighting off illegal [fireworks], we'll hustle to that one."
Retailers have stepped up their warnings to consumers, urging caution when setting off pyrotechnics. Smith's grocery stores have discontinued the sale of aerial fireworksthis year, although they still are renting space in their parking lots to fireworks retailers.
It will be the first real test for Utah's loosened fireworks law, which was enacted in 2011. Until that time, sky-shooting fireworks were prohibited, although swarms of Utahns made trips each year to Evanston, Wyo., to stock up on their illegal displays.
But legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, legalized a class of fireworks designed to launch into the air and return to the ground already cooled.
Last year, the summer was damp and mild. Few incidents surfaced from the new breed of fireworks.
But this year is different and more ominous.
"Fuels in Utah are the driest they've been in about 20 years, and we've seen a lot of these fires that have just been sparks from people target shooting," said Monica Traphagan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "So when we get into high winds, and people are going to be using fireworks and other kinds of gunpowder, we get very concerned."
The weather service has issued a red-flag warning for nearly all of Utah and much of the Intermountain West a result of the high temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.
Traphagan said winds could die down this week, but are expected to pick back up by the weekend heading into July Fourth as temperatures remain high.
Utahns can set off legal fireworks from July 1 through 7, cutting in half last year's two-week window after noise complaints from residents and consultations with fire marshals.
Dunnigan, who is again planning his own family fireworks display, hopes Utahns will be smart when they light fireworks.
"We just need to use common sense and discharge fireworks in a safe area. If you're by a field or an area that is flammable, just don't do it," he said. "I do think we're better off allowing people to have a legal place to do some of the fun fireworks rather than say you can't do it and have them head to Wyoming and head up the hillsides to do it where no one will spot them."
There already have been 400 wildfires across the state, 380 of them human-caused.
"We need the help of all the citizens of Utah," Herbert said. "There needs to be an awareness that we have a very difficult fire season ahead of us. It's going to get worse before it gets better."
Where are fireworks off-limits?
As the Fourth of July approaches, cities along the Wasatch Front have issued fireworks restrictions. Fireworks are banned in the following areas:
Salt Lake City • All areas east of Foothill Drive, and east of 1300 East to 500 South, including the U. of U. campus
• All areas north of South Temple to State Street and North Temple to 200 West
• City Creek Canyon
• East of 200 West/Wall Street to 300 West
• East of 300 West north of Wall Street through Beck Street to the city limit to the north
• All city parks and wildland urban interface areas
• All areas west of I-215
Unified Fire Authority • Foothill areas in Herriman, Draper, West Valley City, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy and Draper
South Jordan • All city and county parks
• Within 200 feet of the natural vegetation border on the Bingham Creek open space and trial system (about 9400 South to 10200 South, and 4600 West to 4800 West)
• Within 200 feet of the western boundary of the natural vegetation border of the Jordan River Parkway open space and trail system extending to city's eastern border (about 9400 South to 11800 South and 300 West to 700 West)