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SALT LAKE CITY — The Wasatch Front, along with most of the West, benefitted from a snowy winter that led to a wet spring and plenty of water.
But the precipitation also fed plant growth around the Salt Lake Valley.
Now, that growth has dried out in the summer heat, leaving the area more susceptible to wildland fire danger, according to Bryan Henry of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
“That spring moisture we received that was so much above average, that grew an incredible grass crop out across the high desert,” Henry said. “The fine fuels that are out there now pretty much grew as thick as they possibly could and as tall as they possibly could, given the conditions we had in the spring months.”
That thick, tall grass has blanketed the Great Basin states of Utah, Nevada and Idaho, and those states now are covered in prime fire fuel, Henry said.
Around the Salt Lake Valley, the moisture content of those grasses is sometimes less than that of store-bought firewood, Unified Fire spokesman Eric Holmes said.
“That’s kind of an amazing fact for people to wrap their heads around because the things we’re burning on purpose might contain more moisture than the living plants that we don’t want to burn,” Holmes said.
Hot days often come with low humidity, which sometimes leads to high, erratic winds, Holmes said.
Henry said winds most often increase a fire’s size, sometimes by thousands of acres.
Parts of the West, including Wyoming and Idaho, are expecting a swell of visitors next month for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21.
Henry said the eclipse could draw visitors from other parts of the country who aren’t familiar with wildfires and aren’t aware of how receptive grasses can be to fire.
“We think there’s going to be quite a few concerns when (the eclipse) gets here,” he said. “We ask that if people are driving out to see the eclipse, they realize the environment that they’re in — that it’s very receptive to fire.”
For the region’s permanent residents, Henry recommended keeping grasses cut and watered when possible.
Around homes, allow 30 feet of “defensible space” to give firefighters a chance to defend the home from fire, Holmes said. If there is lots of vegetation right next to a home, it will be more difficult for fire crews to prevent the home from burning with the limited water and other resources available to them, he said. Firewise.org is a good resource for homeowners looking to fire-proof their homes, he added.
Holmes also said homeowners should make sure there are no open vents or holes where fire embers could enter the home. Make sure gutters are clean and free of debris that could catch fire, he said.
“Those flying embers look for anything to nest in and give us very little opportunity to protect the home,” Holmes said.
Homeowners should also avoid wood shingles if they are re-roofing, Holmes said, adding that people should avoid storing things under outdoor decks.
“If we show up with two or three guys and very little water, it’s going to be difficult for us to move several hundred pounds of storage in addition to trying to protect the home with limited resources,” Holmes said.