SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Last year, nearly 60,000 fires burned across 10 million acres, more than 53,000 of which were human-caused fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Council. As of last Wednesday, there’s been more than 565 wildfires in Utah, and approximately 90% of these fires are human-caused. Most of the state is currently experiencing smoky skies coming from the wildfires plaguing the western U.S. in California and Oregon.

Utah Rep. John Curtis says current federal wildland fire policy is a patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed landownership. He and Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who are members of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, introduced the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021 back in June.

The bill would establish a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders, including city and county level representation, to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. It would also require a review of the nation’s wildland firefighting strategy, accompanied by specific policy recommendations by a commission made up of the nation’s top experts, including state and local stakeholders.

Rep. Curtis joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. He talked about the feeling in Washington D.C. right now as it pertains to wildfires, the role of government in wildfire mitigation and prevention, the complication of different agencies managing federal land, the legislation he proposed with Arizona Rep. O’Halloran, the bipartisan nature of the bill, and the timeline for implementation if it passes.

Ben Newburn, director of fires and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service and Dr. Jim Lutz, associate professor of wildland ecology at Utah State University discussed the nature of forest fires, why there’s been an uptick in wildfires lately, whether these wildfires are happening in similar areas, the differences in terrain and ecosystems in Utah, what mitigation means, the complexity of having multiple agencies in involved, and what work we can do now to help minimizing wildfire risks and impact.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Rep. Curtis, Newburn, and Dr. Lutz, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.