SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Utah is setting records with this year’s wildfire season, but not the good kind. Fire officials said we’ve already seen 58 percent more human-caused fires compared to last year.
During a Wildfire Wednesday update on social media, Kait Webb, with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands said that so far this year, there have been 1,210 wildfires throughout the state. There’s been at least one new wildfire start every day since April 18th. Cumulatively, 2020’s wildfires have burned approximately 207,400 acres.
Approximately 75 percent or 905 of 2020’s wildfires were human-caused. Comparing that to past years, there were only 525 total human-caused fires in 2019 and 583 in 2018.
The largest human-caused fire of the year is Utah County’s Knolls Fire that sparked on June 28th that burned 12,584 acres. The fire led to evacuations of about 3,100 homes and approximately 13,000 residents. Weather conditions quickly created issues for the 200 firefighters on the ground and air operations had to be shut down due to 60 mph winds.
Washington County’s Turkey Farm Road Fire sparked on July 13th was a close second, burning 11,993 acres. Officials said the wildfire was caused by fireworks in a restricted area and led to investigators looking for three teenage suspects. In third place, Tooele County’s Tabby Canyon Fire from May 30th burned 6,849 acres and was caused by target shooting.
The cost to fight 2020’s wildfires has been quite hefty. Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands last told ABC4 News in July that the bill was $20 million so far this year and counting.
An example of how costly wildfires can be is the fireworks-caused Traverse Mountain Fire from June 27th that forced residents in Draper and Lehi to evacuate from their homes overnight. The 467-acre wildfire caused approximately $415,000 in damages. Two teens were charged for their role in starting the fire.
Experts said there are multiple reasons for the high fire activity this year. One is the weather conditions, which are hot and dry due to the lack of rainfall in the past few months.
“We’ve had very little rain over the summer and what we really have a lot of is grass. That’s where all of our fire starts are is in the light fuels like the grass 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,” said Curry.
Another reason could be the increased number of Utahns heading outdoors and recreating due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen reports of state parks reaching capacity. More people out and about mean more campfires, more recreation, and of course, more opportunities to start fires,” said Curry. “But we’re still seeing banned campfires on a regular basis. We’re still seeing fires sparked by target shooting due to people not being thoughtful about where they’re doing it or using inappropriate types of targets.”
As September is National Preparedness Month, Webb encourages Utahns to make sure your home has proper defensible space. Visit the State’s Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal to type in your address and find out the likelihood of your home being impacted by a wildfire.