Dry Conditions and Increased Tourism Have Southwest Fire Officials Concerned About The Summer
Fire officials are urging people to change their behavior outdoors amid record dry conditions and rising visitation numbers in southwest Utah.
Land and fire managers from throughout the region gathered Thursday at Zion National Park on the site of the park’s first ever February wildfire. It was human-caused and scorched four and a half acres.
Greg Bartin, a fire management officer for the park, stood on the burn scar just outside of the main entrance and turned to look at the lines of cars entering the park.
“It's welcomed. It's great for the economy,” he said. “But at the same time, it makes things very challenging for land managers and fire managers because of the number of people that are now recreating in the wild lands.”
Memorial Day weekend is the start of the busy season for Zion — more than 85,000 people are expected to enter the park between Friday and Monday.
The bump in visitors is one reason why fire managers are worried, Bartin said, and the statewide drought is also having a big impact on this year’s fire season.
“Everything that is a challenge is aligned to where we are right now, which is why we're asking the public to help us,” Bartin said. “Please be careful with ignitions, because this year could be very, very challenging.”
The state launched the Fire Sense campaign this week in the hopes of driving down human-caused fires. Officials are urging people to be careful with heavy machinery outdoors, debris burning and target shooting. Campfires outside of designated areas are not allowed in southwest Utah, and officials are asking people throughout the state to make sure any campfire is extinguished completely.
Kait Webb, a spokesperson with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, pointed to last year’s troubling statistic — a record-breaking number of human-caused starts.
“Based on where we're at this year, we could easily surpass that record that we had last year if we don't see a serious change in the public this season with the conditions that we have,” Webb said. “So all of us need to take ownership and be making fire sense decisions this summer.”
As of Monday, there have been 62 fires in the southwest region, and 56 of them were started by people.