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Utah Fire Crews Swing into Action

Utah Fire Crews Swing into Action

Posted - May 25, 2003 at 6:32 p.m.



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John Hollenhorst reporting Fire crews in Utah have swung into action on an unprecedented scale, trying to beat catastrophic wildfires before they get started.

They're demolishing vegetation on thousands of acres to reduce the fire threat later this summer.

Last summer was a fire season to remember. One of the worst ever. And this summer looks worrisome too. So fire crews have launched an assault on overgrown forests and rangeland that will continue for several years.

The are lighting prescribed fires, designed to burn out overgrown vegetation and create a firebreak, before summer heat bakes it into explosive fuel.

VAL NORMAN/FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST: "WE WOULDN'T BE STANDING RIGHT HERE NOW IF THIS WAS IN THE SUMMER... THE FIRE WOULD MOVE FASTER THAN WE COULD MOVE OURSELVES OUT OF HERE."

A hundred miles away they're doing it with chain saws. Creating a firebreak in the foothills above Paragonah.

A similar project above Cedar City a few months ago, protects the lower flank of a mountain subdivision.

Ken French/Cedar Highlands subdivision: "I FEEL GOOD ABOUT THAT. THAT'S GONNA HELP. IF ANYTHING EVER HAPPENS DOWN BELOW, IT'S GOT A BETTER CHANCE OF STOPPING IT DOWN THERE AT THE PROPERTY LINE."

In Millard County, they're doing it with a big new machine that has a big appetite. It's called The Bullhog.

BOB GARDNER/FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST: "I'D HAVE TO SAY IT'S PRETTY IMPRESSIVE. PRETTY IMPRESSIVE MACHINE."

JOHN HOLLENHORST REPORTING: "THE BULLHOG CAN TAKE OUT ABOUT 40 ACRES A DAY. IF YOU TRIED TO DO THAT WITH HAND TOOLS YOU'D NEED 150 WORKERS."

Here, the Bullhog is pulverizing 2,000 acres to cut off future wildfires that threaten the town of Holden.

TOOTER BURDICK/FIRE MANAGEMENT OFFICER: "WE'RE PROTECTING SOME OF THE HOMES ALONG HERE. THEY'RE SCATTERED LITTLE FARMETTES, RANCHES."

The demolition of greenery is on a much bigger scale than ever before. Environmentalists in general support the idea if it's to protect buildings. But many believe the Bush administration is going too far, pushing for projects that benefit ranchers and the logging industry.

DENISE BOGGS/UTAH ENVIRONMENTAL CONGRESS "THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS PLAYING POLITICAL SCIENCE, NOT BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE. AND DEFINITELY NOT FIRE ECOLOGY. AND THEY'RE PLAYING OFF OF PEOPLE'S FEARS."

But policymakers say a century of aggressive fire-fighting allowed excessive fuel to buildup. And wildfires are getting worse.

BOB GARDNER/FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST: "IT'S TO CATASTROPHIC PROPORTIONS. SO WHERE WE NEED TO, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING, WE NEED TO REDUCE THE HAZARDOUS FUELS."

All sides agree that if people live in areas vulnerable to wildfire, they have a personal responsibility to protect their homes. That usually means clearing vegetation around the house.

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