Report Shows Utah Forests in Trouble

Report Shows Utah Forests in Trouble

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Samantha Hayes ReportingUtah Forestry officials say another hot, dry summer has left us in a precarious position. A new state report says 90 percent of Utah's forest land is at risk for catastrophic wildfire.

Through moisture tests they know oak brush will catch fire very easily. For the homeowner, fire officials want to make sure the dangers of living close to that sort of vegetation sinks in.

Firefighters have been quick on the scene this summer saving precious acres of forest land and often protecting threatened homes. So this wildfire season has not exploded, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. In fact, we may be setting ourselves up for that.

Robert Tonioli, Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forest Manager: “We have suppressed fire for so many years, everything is older growth.”

For example, in the recent Centerville fire, some of the oak brush was 18 inches in diameter.

Robert Tonioli, Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forest Manager: “Which tells me some of it is 200-years old.”

Quite often the old vegetation is right next to the new house. For years, local and state agencies have been encouraging homeowners to clear away dead brush and nearby trees. After a recent fire east of Provo officials are pushing that message harder.

Coy Porter, Provo City Fire: “If they allow the growth to come into the structure, we end up having a tough decision whether to protect this one or move to the next one because it’s not defensible.”

When Jil Taylor's house was threatened a major structural change was made from wood shingles to asphalt.

Jil Taylor, Homeowner: “We just figured one spark with all of this and it being so dry, we’d be one of the first.”

In areas where homes meet forests cooperation from homeowners can help firefighters.

But this new report says more government flexibility to thin and clear the forests is needed to protect their overall health. The state's forest health report also emphasizes that fire suppression, because is leaves a lot of dead wood around, is encouraging bark beetle infestations. Forestry officials say the beetle kills more trees annually then fires.

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