Fire Season May Be Shorter But More Intense

Fire Season May Be Shorter But More Intense

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- The wet winter and spring may result in a shorter fire season but with bigger fires, said Zion National Park fire management officer Jan Passek.

Weeds and grasses aren't as tall as at the same time last year, but the density is much higher, he said.

"The fire season may be shorter because of the soil moisture content but we may have bigger fires because there is so much fuel," Passek said.

Zion National Park and the Color County Interagency Fire Management already are taking precautions.

In the park, nonnative species will be mowed and areas around buildings will be cleared of brush and dead wood to create a defensible space.

Nonnative species such as cheat grass are less tolerant of drought conditions and dry quickly, creating fuel for fires. By eliminating fuels around the park lodge, residential housing and campgrounds, it makes it easier for firefighters to suppress fires in these areas and save buildings should a wildfire occur.

David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management for the Arizona Strip field office, said residents defensible space even in desert areas,

"Grasses around communities also provide a risk for structures not just in forested areas," Boyd said. "Already, we have grass curing out in the lower elevations and that means the fire season could start earlier this year than last year."

Boyd said the Forest Service is continuing its fuel reduction program around the Central and Enterprise areas before the fire season begins.

Lightning strikes, which normally come with the summer monsoonal rains, causes many of the fires in the area. But because of the abundance of grasses this year, human-caused fires may increase.

"Its not just tossing a match out the window or leaving a campfire. Parking off road in tall grass with a hot engine or catalytic converter may ignite a fire," Boyd said. "People have to be aware and very careful."

Last year the Color Country Interagency Fire Management, which encompasses most of southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, reported 800 fires compared to 500 fires the year before. Zion National Park reported 24 fires, which burned only 21 acres.

David Eaker, fire public information specialist for the park, said the fires were all the result of lightning strikes and were often limited to one tree.

Higher elevations above 7,000 feet may fair better this year than last. Passek said last April the park had a prescribed burn called the Clear Trap fire. This year, that same site still has about 4 feet of snow.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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