Why is Utah seeing a ‘large spike’ in wildfires?


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah’s 2020 wildfire season has proven to be destructive. Over 1,000 wildfires have charred the state, and more than half of them have been human-caused.

“The thousand number really is not that abnormal,” said Jason Curry, Spokesperson for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “We might, in a normal year see 1,000 fires by this time. But the fact that 750 of them are human-caused is really kind of remarkable, especially when, at the end of a typical season, we might have only 600 or 750 by the end of a normal season.”

“Knowing that we’ve got weeks, if not months left in the fire season, that tells us that the numbers are up,” he added

In comparison, only 359 wildfires in 2019, and 488 in 2018, were human-caused.

“What is the reason for a large jump in wildfires this season,” asked ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.

“I think there are a lot of different factors that play into it,” Curry replied. “Just like every year, each fire season, it’s got its own personality based on the fuels, the weather, lightning activity. And of course, this year, there’s a little different input with the pandemic, and we’ve got a lot more people out and about recreating, and that’s just based on our observations in state parks, national parks, forest service, and all the recreation areas outdoors. We’re seeing more people in greater numbers out, recreating.”

“What activities are causing these wildfires?” asked Johnson.

“Equipment is a leading cause just because of how many different things that it encompasses,” Curry answered. “But we’re still seeing banned campfires on a regular basis. We’re still seeing target shooting fires where people are just not being thoughtful about where they choose to set their targets and using inappropriate targets and so forth.”

Due to the number of active wildfires, mixed with hot and dry conditions, and “very little rain,” there are fire restrictions in place throughout most of Utah.

“We’ve had very little rain at all over for the summer, and what we really have a lot of is grass. That’s where all of our fire starts is in the light fuels like the grasses. And we had a pretty healthy crop this year. But you add that to the really healthy crop that we had last year as well and it’s kind of double trouble as far as the light fuels. That load that we have in the grasses, the fire activity picks up and gets pretty active in the early stages, and that’s when we usually are able to catch them,” Curry explained.

Curry said it’s a good idea to think about how your home might survive a wildfire. Click here to go to the state’s Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. You can type in your address and find out the likelihood of your location being impacted by a wildfire.

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