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Health, Science & Environment
Keep up with the latest news about wildfires in Utah. If you have tips or questions, contact Lexi Peery at lpeery@kuer.org.

Fire Restrictions Are Being Lifted In Parts Of Utah, But Potential For New Starts Remains

A photo of a helicopter flying above a fire in mountains.
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
The Oak Grove Fire is burning in the mountains just north of St. George in the Dixie National Forest. It started Aug. 29 and has grown to 696 acres.

Fire restrictions in most of Utah were enacted earlier this year than in the past. However now, many of them are being lifted, partly because of storms and cooler temperatures across the state but also because of improved human behavior.

Decisions to put restrictions in place — and lift them — are made with consultation between various state and federal agencies. They consider things such as weather, fuel conditions and human behavior, according to Chris Delaney, the state’s fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

He said even though restrictions were lifted in some places, the potential for new starts is still there.

“We are still seeing human-caused fires on a regular basis, but those fires are not growing at exponential rates as what we would see this June or July here in Utah,” Delaney said. “We feel that the conditions — weather-wise and fuel-wise — [are] allowing us to come out of fire restrictions. That will allow people to be able to use their public lands without as many restrictions.”

Last year was a record-breaking fire season for Utah — around 77% of the state’s fires were because of people. So far in 2021, people have accounted for just over half of Utah’s wildfires.

Delaney said restrictions are just one of the state’s tools to cut down on human-caused fires. The state’s $1.8 million prevention campaign — dubbed “Fire Sense” — debuted this year and Delaney thinks that could have helped keep things under control.

The state’s messaging has focused on people having common sense when they’re recreating outdoors. Delaney said it’s an effort to change the culture.

“We can go into restrictions, we can do campaigns, but it really comes down to the public being educated on how to responsibly use their public lands when they go out there and recreate,” he said.

The state’s only large active wildfire was started by people in the Dixie National Forest. The Oak Grove Fire sparked in Washington County on Aug. 29 and has grown to 696 acres. It’s now 10% contained.

Kevin Abel, a spokesperson for Dixie National Forest, said restrictions there were lifted at the end of July. He said this fire was an act of negligence and regardless of rules that are in place, people should be mindful when outdoors.

“A careless act of leaving a campfire unattended is what started the Oak Grove Fire,” Abel said. “If we recreate responsibly, we're going to mitigate that issue and we're going to be able to have the public out enjoying the public lands.”

Restrictions are still mostly in place for northern Utah because conditions haven’t improved enough yet.

More than 88% of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Delaney said the “pulses” of monsoonal storms help with fire potential, but don’t do much to mitigate the drought.

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