Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Late To Start, Late To End: The 2019 Fire Season Is Officially Over

Piles of debris burn in a snow-covered forest.
Courtesy of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands
November brought shorter days and wetter conditions to Utah — two conditions fire crews statewide needed to burn "slash" piles like the one shown above. The state's fire authority describes the method as an important tool for reducing fuel hazards.";

Utah’s fire season is officially over following last month’s winter storms.
The annual fire season technically ends on Oct. 31, as defined by state law. But record dryness in the southern parts of the state had led to temporary extensions on debris burning across 11 different Utah counties through November.

Every fire season has a distinct “personality,” said Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. This year’s was mild, marked by a late start and a late finish.

Utah had 1,088 wildfires burn across the state in 2019, which is about average.

An unusually high number of those fires, about 68%, were ignited by humans. But that reflects a low-lightning year rather than a jump in human-caused fires, Curry said, though he did add improving the public’s fire awareness is still a top priority. 

Overall, crews were quick to respond, catching 90% of the state’s fires before they exceeded 10 acres. That’s part of the reason why this year’s acres per fire ignition — one of the metrics the division focuses on — was below 100. That number is significantly lower than the previous two years, but greater than earlier seasons this decade.

A bar graph showing the average acres burned per fire ignition for each year between 2012 and 2019
Credit Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands
Utah's 2019 fire season saw an average of 88 acres burn in each fire.

Another key characteristic of this year’s fire season was the high number of wildfires at the fringe of residential areas — a zone experts refer to as the wildland urban interface.

Utah saw six such fires in 2019: the Round Peak and Alaska Fires in Utah County, the Green Ravine Fire in Tooele County, and the Gun Range, Snoqualmie and Francis Fires in Davis County.

“It’s one of the key factors that sets this fire season apart from other seasons,” Curry said, adding that firefighting in these types of environments requires a lot of resources.

Those fires destroyed a total of 12 homes but did not result in any injuries or lives lost.

There were no fatalities among Utah’s firefighters, but there were eight injuries. Curry said the number of injuries is normal, given the rugged conditions and strenuous labor involved with fighting fires in the Beehive State.

“Working here in the desert on triple-digit days for 15 hours straight, it’s actually surprising how little of them we get when you really look at the cumulative hours that everybody works,” he said.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.

Correction 2:20 p.m. MST 12/5/19: A previous version of this article understated the number of wildfires that took place in the state’s urbanized areas this year, six of which took place along the Wasatch Front. Fires destroyed 12 structures across the state, not just along the Wasatch Front.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.