Prescribed burn in Grand Canyon: Southern Utah fire agencies prepared in case of emergency

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Smoke is visible throughout Grand Canyon National Park this week as fire officials are burning over 3,000 piles of wood and debris. 

Fire experts in Southern Utah said that while pile burning is one of the safest ways to reduce hazardous fuels, they’re prepared in the event that the prescribed burn becomes an out-of-control wildfire. 

Fire managers at Grand Canyon National Park will burn thousands of 5-foot slash piles as weather and fuel moisture conditions allow. They said it’s a key part of the South Rims Project to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the risk of serious hotter fires. 

Officials at the Utah Division of Forestry said they monitor all prescribed burns near the state border closely in the event of an emergency. 

“There’s a prescription for weather, fuel moisture and other factors that we look at and we stay inside that window,” said Mike Melton, area fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Melton said that if the prescribed burn become out-of-control, they have pre-planned dispatches through the Color Country Interagency Fire Center (CCIFC) and the local 911 center, which would send an incident commander and resources immediately to the scene. 

UDF officials said many agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and local firefighters, are training staff this week to read fire behavior and determine origins of wildfires. 

“They’re using pin flags of different colors, sketching, evidence collection techniques and interview techniques to go through a thorough process of finding out where the fire started, how it started, and try to determine who was involved,” said Jason Curry, public information officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. 

In all of Southwest Utah and most of the state, permits are required for burning year round. Over 1,300 wildfires were reported in Utah last year, and more than half of them were started by the public, according to Melton. 

Information about the South Rim Piles Project can be found on Twitter @GrandCanyonNPS on Inciweb. For recorded fire information, call 928-638-7819.

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