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Health, Science & Environment

Utah’s Historic Fire Season Is Closed — What Made It A Record-Breaking Year?

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Courtesy of Utah Fire Info
A pile burning in the Richfield District. It’s part of a prescribed burn project that fire agencies are working on now that the fire season is closed.

The fire season in Utah has officially ended and it’s been a historic one. A record-breaking 78% of fires were human-caused and fire officials said that was likely influenced by more people recreating outdoors because of COVID-19.

Equipment, debris burning and campfires were the top three reasons for human-caused fires this year, according to Kait Webb, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

But Webb said this historic season wasn’t just because more people were outside.

“We also had a very hot and dry year,” Webb said. “Those conditions started really early and then they also lingered late so that window of time that we had high potential for ignition and quick and hot fire growth was very long this season.”

Webb said as of Nov. 10, there were 1,539 fires and 1,202 were started by people. The previous high mark for human caused fires was in 2015 with 937 and Webb said the state surpassed that this year in just four months. Over 316,000 acres burned across the state and about one-third of that area was because of human-caused fires.

Webb said even though it’s now technically the off-season for fires, the agency is working on educating people about prevention.

“The majority of those were preventable,” Webb said. “We had so many fires that didn't need to happen. And that is something that we can influence and we can change. We can easily reduce the number of human caused fires that we have here in the state. And it's really crucial that we do so.”

The state spent around $60 million in suppression this year. Officials investigating these events may charge those who started the fire with suppression costs.

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