SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Wildfires are devastating parts of Utah and other Western states which has worn resources thin. As temperatures continue to rise due to climate change experts worry bad fire seasons will be the new normal. Utah is finding ways to prepare.
Phil Dennison is a Professor of Geology at the University of Utah. For the last 20 years he’s studied wildfires, and for a decade has focused on the impact climate has on those fires.
“So those higher temperatures which we have measured, are making fire seasons worse,” said Dennison.
He notes summers tend to have hotter temperatures and include wildfires. It’s the time of year those temperatures are rising which is causing alarm.
“If the snow melts earlier as it has been with warmer temperatures then we have fire season starting earlier,” said Dennison. “Fires occurring more frequently at a higher elevation.”
State and federal fire agencies around Utah are trying to prepare for the worsening wildfires by treating vulnerable areas.
Dave Whittekiend is a Forest Supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service. They try to do prescribed burns and clear out overgrown areas near critical infrastructure. It’s already shown success when fires start.
“Once it hits an area where we’ve done some fuels mitigation the fire can go to the ground, and the flame heights are shorter,” said Whittekiend. “That allows them to take direct action on that fire.”
Whittekiend has seen firsthand how much worse fires are getting around the West. He believes a focus on mitigation now could save a lot of money from firefighting costs down the road.
While mitigation could reduce the danger in some areas experts also note it won’t stop fires completely. Dennison said years will vary, but we’re already seeing a difference.
“Not every year is going to be bad, there will be wetter years and drier years,” said Dennison. “These types of years where we have lots of fires during the summer and conditions are really smoky are going to increase in the future.
Gov. Gary Herbert started a program several years ago which allows agencies to collaborate on mitigation efforts. Firefighters said people can help by making sure their communities have defensible space.