CEDAR CITY (ABC4 News) – With lower temperatures and higher humidity expected throughout Southern Utah, fire managers lifted restrictions Thursday in Washington, Kane, Beaver and Iron counties, but want to warn residents: wildfire season isn’t over yet.
Fire officials said they were expecting one of the worst wildfire seasons in more than a decade, warning that any blazes had the potential to be catastrophic.
“Initially, this year, with all of the precipitation that we received in the winter and the spring, we had an above-average fuel loading and a lot of grass out there that definitely had the potential to cause us a lot of challenges here in Southwest Utah,” said BLM Color Country Interagency Fire public information officer Nick Howell.
Although the recent Neck Fire torched nearly 20,000 acres of land, Howell said it’s been a fairly average season overall. From May through October, firefighters respond to about 300 blazes typically, and in 2019, they said they’re on track.
Howell said people caused about 60% of wildfires so far this year, with many abandoned campfires, illegal fireworks usage, and vehicle issues, such as trailer chains sparking flames. But the good news, he said, is a greater level of public awareness.
“This year, I did receive a lot of phone calls from people in the public about fire restrictions, and I think wildfire risk is definitely on the forefront of everyone’s minds in the public, especially in the summer months,” Howell said. “We need all the help we can get preventing those human-caused fires.”
An abnormal monsoon pattern, Howell said, is one of the main reasons the wildfire season hasn’t been as aggressive as fire marshalls were expecting, leading to a much lower number of lightning-caused ignitions.
“Moving forward into the fire season, typically we see that monsoonal moisture that pushes up from the South and brings rain and lightning in the months of July and August, and this year, that did not occur,” he added, leading to a much lower number of lightning-caused ignitions.
In fact, the St. George area has gone 102 days without measurable precipitation, according to the National Weather Service. Fire crews said over the last five years, they’ve seen a long-term trend of drought.
“We definitely still have some conditions that would be conducive to a large fire, especially with the wind that’s in the forecast,” Cedar City Fire Marshall Mike Shurtz said. “We need to be vigilant.”
For more information on wildfire safety and fire restrictions, head to the Utah Fire Info website.
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