Utah deemed most vulnerable in the West for homes that may catch on fire

A fire hydrant near Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday. A pair of Salt Lake County Council members are raising the alarm over what they contend is an extreme wildfire risk due to seasonal culinary water supplies in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, as well as inadequate water pressure in fire hydrants.

A fire hydrant near Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday. A pair of Salt Lake County Council members are raising the alarm over what they contend is an extreme wildfire risk due to seasonal culinary water supplies in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, as well as inadequate water pressure in fire hydrants. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of Salt Lake County Council members are raising the alarm over what they contend is an extreme wildfire risk due to seasonal culinary water supplies in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, as well as inadequate water pressure in fire hydrants.

Dea Theodore and Richard Snelgrove directed their concerns to the leaders of the Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, which is set to have a hearing on wildfire risk Wednesday.

"Homes along our east bench and in the Cottonwood canyons appear to be some of the most at risk. To compound this extreme public safety hazard is the fact that many homes and residents in the Cottonwood canyons seem to be lacking adequate culinary and emergency water. It appears that for several months out of the year, the fire hydrants are empty or produce water with very little pressure," they wrote to the legislative leaders.

The two cited Utah's Hazard Mitigation Plan that puts Salt Lake County in the top spot in the state for being at risk for wildfires and an analysis done last year by Redfin, which shows that Utah, with its fast growing population and encroachment of homes in mountainous areas, is No. 1 in the West for the percentage of homes at risk for wildfires.

Water runs down Little Cottonwood Creek near homes in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday.
Water runs down Little Cottonwood Creek near homes in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

That analysis shows that more than a third of Utah homes are at risk of burning.

Snelgrove, in fact, voted against adopting the county's Wasatch Canyons general plan because he said it failed to adequately address wildfire risk in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, as well as Millcreek Canyon.

As a candidate for the Council, Theodore opined about the lack of preparedness in an op-ed that was published in the Deseret News, accusing county officials of being shirking their duty to protect the canyons.

"There remains no realistic plan or direction to reduce heavy fuel loads on the public lands surrounding private homes and cabins. We still have a lack of accurate reporting of water capacity to fight fires, no proposed secondary access and few tangible action items."

Unified Fire Authority’s Station 13 in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday.
Unified Fire Authority’s Station 13 in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Theodore contends it is not a matter of if, but when, wildfires will trap canyon residents with only seasonal access to culinary water.

"Our elected officials and public servants have a legal and moral obligation to protect the lives of those who elected them, along with our canyon visitors and guests and the critical natural resources in these canyons," she wrote. "Turning a blind eye, ignoring extreme fire danger and threats to homes and lives, is no way to lead — especially when the heavy fuel loads and dry conditions indicate it is not a matter of if, but when, these mountains and canyons are ablaze."

Both Theodore and Snelgrove requested time with the Natural Resources committee on Wednesday and a greater chunk of time next month.

Water runs down Little Cottonwood Creek near Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday.
Water runs down Little Cottonwood Creek near Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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Utah wildfiresUtah droughtEnvironmentUtahSalt Lake County
Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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