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Many wildfires preventable, officials say



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SARATOGA SPRINGS — A wildfire that caused the evacuation of hundreds of homes in Eagle Mountain burned through Friday, ticking the number of wildfires started by target shooting into the 20s.

The Dump Fire, which has burned 1,600 acres and forced more than 1,000 residents to evacuate, was accidentally started Thursday by target shooters. No criminal charges will be filed against the shooters, but civil lawsuits were a possibility, said Jason Curry of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land.

There have been 20 wildfires started this year by target shooters, according to officials. Governor Gary Herbert, who spoke Friday, called it a "foolish activity" to shoot into cheatgrass under the current conditions.

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"It's the individual's responsibility to use common sense," he said. "Be careful with fireworks, firearms and campfires. Just be smart about what you do."

Whether the state would impose fireworks and open flame restrictions in addition to what local communities have already done was something Herbert said he didn't know on Friday but would be exploring.

"It should be a bottom-up approach rather than a top- down, one-size-fits-all approach," he commented.

Smoke coupled with hot conditions led state air quality regulators to issue a “Red Air” alert for Friday, which is likely to continue into Saturday for Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties.

Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler said the abnormally hot temperatures were already pushing these areas into the red zone on Thursday, so smoke from Friday’s fast-moving fire made it worse.

Smokey skies

Ash from the fire was seen falling in Draper, and smoke could be seen throughout both Utah Valley and the Salt Lake Valley.

Smoke coupled with hot conditions led state air quality regulators to issue a “Red Air” alert for Friday, which is likely to continue into Saturday for Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties.

Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler said the abnormally hot temperatures were already pushing these areas into the red zone on Thursday, so smoke from Friday’s fast-moving fire made it worse.

Under these conditions, Spangler said young children and the elderly should remain indoors if at all possible and minimize exposure to the unhealthy air. The conditions also pose trouble for people who suffer from respiratory illnesses and outdoor exertion should be avoided.

Lee said the fire had originally threatened an explosives company, the Dyno Nobel plant in Eagle Mountain, but ended up burning around the plant. "So that's very good news," she said.

Preventing wildfires

Fire restrictions
  • Only start campfires in provided facilities
  • Do not smoke outside of a vehicle or building, developed recreation site or an area cleared to mineral soil
  • Fireworks, tracer ammunition or pyrotechnic devices are prohibited on public lands
Come prepared
When shooting outside of a shooting range, bring:
  • A shovel
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Extra water, not just drinking water

As of June 14, all state and federal lands, and unincorporated private lands are under strict fire restrictions.

On the list of currently prohibited activities are starting campfires outside of provided facilities and smoking on undeveloped recreation sites or areas with vegetation. Fireworks, tracer ammunition or pyrotechnic devices are also prohibited.

Officials are reminding shooters that while target shooting in dry areas is legal and currently not prohibited, it can still be dangerous. Shooters should use discretion when choosing target shooting locations, avoiding areas with a high risk of wildfire. Ranges, they remind, are always a good option.

Coming prepared with a shovel, fire extinguisher and extra water can go a long way in prevention. If a fire does start, however, call 911 immediately.

Heat alone, without the aid of a spark, can start a fire, too. Vehicles pulling off the side of a road have ignited fires as hot catalytic converters come in contact with dry grasses. Be cautious and stay on developed roads, using only designated shoulders to pull off of the road.

Under these conditions, Spangler said young children and the elderly should remain indoors if at all possible and minimize exposure to the unhealthy air. The conditions also pose trouble for people who suffer from respiratory illnesses and outdoor exertion should be avoided.

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