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John Daley ReportingDid the U.S. Forest Service misjudge the danger that a prescribed burn in the Cascade Springs area might get out of control? An internal review panel plans to take a look at that question--and what could have been done early on to contain the blaze.
Weather in individual canyons anywhere on the Wasatch Front is notoriously hard to predict. And weather data near Cascade Springs from that day shows humidity was low, and wind speed was in excess of 18 miles an hour--not ideal for starting what is supposed to be a controlled burn fire.
Most controlled burns don't get out control and get relatively little public notice. But when they do, reactions run from annoyance to bewilderment with some people questioning the timing of such a burn.
Wayne Wiles: "I think they should have waited a bit longer, maybe until October to do this burn. The weather is still favorable in October to do that and it'd have been a lot cooler and I don't think the winds would have been as bad."
Joanne Riley: "Through summer it just gets really really dry. Through the end of summer, you've got the chance of this happening. But if you do it at the beginning of summer, springtime, then you're able to control it better because it's not as dry."
Forest Service officials blamed the blaze on an unexpected, unpredicted increase in winds. But locals maintain that afternoon winds are common in that area in the fall. And a look at the weather readings from the nearest monitoring station at Sundance Arrow show relative humidity was low on Tuesday, the day the fire was started.
At noon, the time of the test burn, humidity in the next canyon over was only 13% and the wind was blowing at 18 miles per hour with gusts of up to 26 miles an hour.
University of Utah meteorologist Kevin Perry says the broader forecast for the Wasatch Front, based on computer models, suggested it might be a good day to burn.
Kevin Perry, Meteorologist, Univ. of Utah: "What they are actually looking for are stable meteorological conditions with calm winds, high relative humidity and low temperatures in the afternoon."
But he says computer models are not reliable for areas smaller than 10 kilometers--in other words local canyons are much harder to predict.
Kevin Perry, Meteorologist, Univ. of Utah: "The winds at the small scales of what you see inside the canyons are not really predicted well by the models."
That Forest Service review team will meet next week and begin asking the tough questions about this fire, including just exactly where the weather forecasting information came from. Meantime, with each day that we deal with smoky skies on the Wasatch Front more and more people seem to be asking how we can avoid this in the future.