ST. GEORGE, Utah – As thick smoke and flames filled in the air in Southern Utah due to a collection of house fires in St. George, residents were reminded of the importance of conserving water and being responsible around fire.
The primary tool for fighting fires is an especially valuable resource in the dry, arid, climate at the bottom of the state says the Washington County Water Conservancy District spokesperson Karry Rathje.
“Water is like gold for us down here in the desert,” Rathje tells ABC4.
With obvious concern for the affected residents in the house fires that engulfed a few homes near 400 North and 300 West in St. George, Rathje states that fortunately there is no cap on water allocated for extinguishing flames.
As far as residential fires are concerns, Washington County has plenty of water and doesn’t foresee any problems with using what is needed.
The bigger issue comes into play when dealing with wildfires.
“It puts a lot of ash and debris in our watershed that runs down the mountain and gets into our reservoirs,” Rathje says, explaining that treating the water and removing the debris can be an expensive and time-consuming process.
In his monthly statewide address, Governor Spencer J. Cox explained the simple measures that Utahns could take to prevent wildfires, which can devastate acres of lands and cause millions of damage. Small things like dragging a chain behind a truck, shooting a firearm in a dry area, or anything that creates a spark can create a big problem, according to Cox.
“We are heading into one of the worst droughts and worst fire seasons that we’ve seen, and we’ve seen some bad ones,” Cox stated near the end of his meeting with the press. “How bad it gets really depends on the weather.”
As of this report, crews are battling a fire that has spread to 5 homes near 300 West Diagonal Street in St. George.
As the fires raged on Friday afternoon, weather conditions compounded the spread of the smoke and flames. High winds accelerated the fire’s growth and made the environment more difficult for crews to do their job to extinguish the flames.
Continuing his thoughts on the drought and fire season, Cox reminded Utahns of the need for personal responsibility when it comes to irrigating lawns and other water usage behaviors.
“Most Utahns overwater,” he claimed.
Fortunately for Utahns in Washington County, that is not the case, according to Rathje.
Thanks to what she calls a “very aggressive” and “very, very robust” water conservation plan, Washington County became the first in the state to meet the governor’s water conservation goal, Rathje says.
Thanks to measures such as time-of-day watering ordinances, weekly limitations, and training with landscape professionals, the county has reduced its per capita use by 30%.
“We are encouraging residents to only irrigate, as needed, and to not irrigate more than three times a week,” Rathje explains. “We’re really hot and dry down here so I know that’s probably a lot more than people are irrigating up north, but, but we’ve had some really hot strike temperatures.”
In the event of a fire, be it residential or in the wild, Washington County feels they are prepared and will use as much water as needed to snuff it out. Still, residents are reminded to be responsible, because, the fewer fires, the better.
“We are in one of the driest years on record,” Rathje says, echoing Cox’s remarks. “And the really scary thing for us often is that typically during this time of year, we are filling our reservoirs. Because we have had such a hot, dry year, we have actually started depleting our reservoirs already. So there’s just not any runoff coming into our system.”