Crews clearing dead brush along Wasatch Front in hopes of curbing forest fires

Forest Service workers have started clearing dead brush from some areas in the steep terrain of the Wasatch Front in hopes that future fires will be far less destructive. (Mike Anderson, KSL-TV)



SALT LAKE CITY – Forest Service workers have started clearing dead brush from some areas in the steep terrain of the Wasatch Front in hopes that future fires will be far less destructive.

It's a first-of-it's kind, long-term project that will help thin out the forest in parts of Salt Lake, Summit and Utah counties.

Crews said those areas have built up a lot of fuels that can lead to some very destructive wildfires.

It's something the Forest Service typically does around homes and cabins, but it's the first time they've done it in this area.

They took a widespread approach Friday when they sent crews into the steep terrain, which is way off-trail and up the mountain.

It's a difficult task just to get in there.

"We're getting rid of all the dead, downed, brushy component, and downed logs and creating these piles, but we're still leaving our over-story of green trees in order to give that shading," said Guy Wilson, a fire engine specialist with the U.S. Forest Service who is also heading up the project.

Wilson said the work is finally happening now after about three years of planning.

Their efforts could help out in potentially busy fire seasons during dry years much like now.

"Every little bit that we can do will help as these bad years happen, and we're still not out of the woods yet. We've still got August and September coming up," said Wilson.

They're turning the thick forest into more meadow-like environments, leaving shade from trees up above so that it all doesn't dry up.

Guy Wilson of the US Forest Service is heading up a project clearing dead brush from some areas in the steep terrain of the Wasatch Front in hopes that future fires will be far less destructive.
Guy Wilson of the US Forest Service is heading up a project clearing dead brush from some areas in the steep terrain of the Wasatch Front in hopes that future fires will be far less destructive. (Photo: Mike Anderson, KSL-TV)

"These treatments won't stop wildfires, but they're aimed to be more consistent across the landscape so we don't get those high-level ground scorching fires that just take everything," said Wilson.

Especially destructive fires can adversely impact the watershed just below that feeds into the Salt Lake Valley, getting there within about 24 hours.

"So, if the entire watershed gets blown out like that, there's nothing really to hold back the dirt and the silt and the logs and debris and stuff like that, so it all flows downhill, down into the streams," Wilson explained.

The work is difficult and not easy to get to, but Wilson said it should pay off in the coming years.

Crews will continue thinning the forest up there through August, with a similar effort in Utah County also underway.

They will hike back into the area after some of the first snowfall to burn some of those slash piles they're making.

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Mike Anderson

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