Most Utah wildfires are human-caused; don’t ignite the next one

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PANGUITCH, UT – JUNE 25: A wildfire burns through trees and ground cover on June 25, 2017 outside Panguitch, Utah. The fire named the “Brian Head Fire” started last week and has burned more then 43,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes as of June 25th. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

(ABC4) – According to Utah Fire Info, the East Myton Complex fire in Duchesne County, which began on March 29th, is actively burning. The blaze is currently 25 percent contained and is believed to be human-caused.

With fire season already upon the Beehive State, it’s important to know the top causes of wildfires, how to prevent them, and what to do if you accidentally cause one.

“Human-caused wildfires is a big focus of ours, and it is a big concern of ours as well as we move into a season that is as dry as it is right now,” Kaitlyn Webb, Statewide Prevention and Fire Communications Coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State lands, says.

BELOW: The ‘Brian Head Fire‘ destroyed homes in Panguitch, Utah in 2017 and was human-caused.

Webb says over a ten-year average, about 60 percent of Utah wildfires were human-caused. Last year, 77 percent of Utah’s wildfires were caused by humans, setting a record in human-caused wildfires, Webb states.

Though the top cause of fires in Utah is lightning, that is quickly followed by fires caused by equipment, a human-cause.

“That includes anything from a dragging chain, blown tire, a vehicle parking over dry grass, exhaust or brakes- so those types of starts are our second-highest cause but our highest human-caused start in the state,” Webb explains.

The next cause is debris-burning. This can include anything from fires that begin from people burning a pile of leaves in their yard to larger-scale agricultural burns that have escaped, Webb says.

The third highest cause of Utah wildfires is also human-caused- campfires.

Webb says the causes that fall under those four causes are categorized as miscellaneous. These include things like cutting, welding, grinding, firearms use, and fireworks.

With four of Utah’s top five causes of wildfires being human-caused, here’s what can be done to prevent starting them in the first place. Webb says a good place to start is being aware and asking some questions.

“The biggest thing is to start with being aware of what conditions we’re in and whether or not that is high fire danger, so how dry has it been? Is it a super hot, windy day? Conditions like that are more conducive to a wildfire starting and a wildfire speeding very quickly,” she states.

She says it’s important to be aware that Utah has been in a drought and know how dry vegetation is. And when planning to recreate, go into it with a preventative mindset and come prepared.

Be sure you are “paying attention to some of those notifications so that you’re aware of how some of your recreational activities might potentially or accidentally start a wildfire, and it’s also really important to know what kind of activities you engage in- whether it’s driving down the highway or going camping with a campfire or target shooting or fireworks- knowing how those activities can accidentally spark a wildfire,” Webb explains.

But what if you do accidentally spark a wildfire?

“Immediately report it,” Webb says. “The quicker that fire resources are of aware of a start, the quicker they can respond, hopefully, the smaller they can keep the wildfire and the less risk there is.”

Staying on the scene to answer questions as firefighters arrive can also be very helpful, Webb states.

Webb says if you came prepared with the right equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, water, or shovel, you can try to put it out without placing yourself at risk.

“The first step is really making sure you have the right equipment when you’re out and about doing whatever it is you may be doing.”

To prevent wildfires caused by campfires, make sure to follow these three steps: drown, stir, and feel. Webb says pouring water on a campfire is not enough. Stirring water into the ashes can release heat that can build up and work its way back to the surface.

“If it’s cool enough to touch, then it’s cool enough to leave,’ she explains.

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