Over 70% of Utah's wildfires are human-caused this year. These are some of the usual suspects

A plane dumps fire retardant onto the Central Fire in Washington County on Sunday. The fire is one of the nearly 300 human-caused wildfires that have started so far this year, accounting for over 70% of this year's fires.

A plane dumps fire retardant onto the Central Fire in Washington County on Sunday. The fire is one of the nearly 300 human-caused wildfires that have started so far this year, accounting for over 70% of this year's fires. (Utah Department of Forestry, Fire and State Lands )

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah firefighters say they're concerned about firework safety this Fourth of July weekend, along with a recent uptick in other human-caused fires over the past few weeks.

The Utah Department of Forestry, Fire and State Lands reports that since June 1 they've responded to 56 wildland fires across Utah caused by vehicles and another 31 fires sparked by debris.

"These fires are preventable," said Jamie Barnes, the state forester and the division's director, in a statement on Wednesday. "Those parties that cause a wildfire can and will be held accountable for the damage caused. The state actively pursues cost recovery to pay fire suppression costs."

Vehicle-related fires are often caused when a vehicle comes in contact with dry grass. State firefighters recommend that people don't drive over dry grass or park their vehicles near dry vegetation, as hot exhaust from the vehicle can spark a fire.

The 31 debris-related fires were all reported after Utah's annual closed fire season began, when many debris burns are banned without authorization. Igniting a fire without written permission can result in a class C misdemeanor. Another 41 fires debris-related wildfires began during the open fire season, which wrapped up on May 31.

The division's message comes a day after officials stressed the importance of firework safety as the grass, brush and trees in Utah's lower-elevation areas continue to dry out. Personal fireworks can be legally launched between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Friday — and up to midnight on Thursday — in approved areas.

Utah Department of Forestry, Fire and State Lands officials said people should also:

  • Check the weather and do not light fireworks during red flag days. Red flag warnings are in effect in many parts of Utah through at least 9 p.m. on the holiday Thursday.
  • Never leave children unsupervised near any type of fire or fireworks. Keep your pets safe by keeping them indoors.
  • Ensure that fireworks are placed on a stable, vegetation-free surface. Light fireworks one at a time and move away quickly after ignition.
  • Once done, douse fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them away.

Fire activity has started to pick up around the state, although none of the fires, to this point, has been as large as in previous years.

Sixty-five new wildfire starts were reported over the past week, Utah officials reported on Wednesday. With a few additional wildfires reported after the state's weekly report was released, the number of new wildfire starts this year — 406 total as of Wednesday afternoon — has doubled since June 12.

Human-caused ignitions account for a little more than 70% of this year's fires, which have burned more than 5,300 acres and counting.

Fire conditions aren't expected to improve anytime soon, especially with hot and dry conditions forecast this week and even hotter conditions on the horizon. The Great Basin Coordination Center advises that there's an above-normal fire risk in southwest and northwest Utah this month.

Gina Palma, a meteorologist with the agency, said recent conditions indicate that a "flash drought" is forming within parts of the Great Basin. These conditions are expected to last through at least the first half of this month.

Palma added in a video report Monday that monsoonal moisture may start to impact southeast Utah first before reaching other parts of southern Utah in the second half of this month. But she cautions that those initial storms could produce strong winds and dry lightning that might cause additional problems.

"(It's) really pushing us into possibly a critical period going into the middle of the month," she said. "We'll be more concerned with fire starts, the wind following some of this moisture and some of this drier lightning."

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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