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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was suffering Thursday from a bout of laryngitis, but that didn't stop him from making a public plea for people to do their part to prevent wildfires.
"I believe we can lessen the risk of wildfires by acting proactively and making small changes to our behavior," the governor said in a prepared statement. "I hope Utahns will join me in pledging to prevent wildfires this year."
Herbert and a coalition of land managers announced the launch of the Utah Wildfire Prevention Pledge at a Thursday press conference at the City Creek Pavillion.
By going to SparkChangeUtah.gov, residents can get educated on simple steps to make sure they're doing all they can to prevent human-caused wildfires.
Those who sign up for the pledge will be entered to win a $250 gift card.
Last year was a record-breaking wildfire season in Utah.
Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the total cost of firefighting for federal and state agencies was $150 million, with the state shouldering $42 million of those costs.
There were more than 1,300 wildfires, and 696 of those wildfires were preventable, said Brett Ostler, state fire management officer with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
Although it is lush and green now, the vegetation will eventually dry out under the heat of the summer sun and the state will not escape the wildfire season unscathed.
"The fire season will be delayed this year," said Dave Whittekiend, forest supervisor of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, but it will come.
"People need to be careful with their campfires and make sure they are dead out," he warned.
The Bureau of Land Management has been concentrating its attention on active fuels management and working cooperatively with rural and local volunteer fire departments, said Jessica Wade, the BLM's fire management officer for Utah.
The federal agency gave those smaller departments $40,000 in training funds, four fire engines and 100 handheld radios to support frontline efforts.
Officials are particularly worried about the lush fuel loads in the southern part of the state in areas like Moab and St. George, which received as much as 200 to 300 percent of normal precipitation and snowpack well above 150 percent of average, said the BLM's meteorologist, Basil Newmerzhycky.
Forecasters, he added, are calling for temperatures to be above average from June into August.