The fire community is breathing easier about the upcoming wildfire season for now.
Back in winter, fire officials worried that Utah might be headed into a long, harsh one. But rain gauges at the Salt Lake City airport registered more than double the normal rainfall for the month. Now the soil moisture is restored and green grass covers the range.
“Right now, for the short term, we’re looking pretty good just because of the green,” says Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “It’s healthy. We’ve got really good conditions out there as far as fire danger.”
Curry says the lush grass could eventually become a problem because it will dry out with the summer heat and become fuel for fires.
“We are in a desert,” he says. “In June and July, we know that that’s when it gets hot and dry. The grass is going to dry and we’re going to get fires.”
Unpredictable weather can mean the difference between big fires and small ones. And Curry says this winter’s poor snowpack makes mountain trees and other longer-burning fuels more vulnerable despite May’s rain.
Steve Running, an ecology professor with the University of Montana, told reporters in a conference call that climate change amplifies the wildfire risk because the mountain snowpack melts earlier.
“You’re just vulnerable,” he says, “for a longer period of time.”
A regional forecast released this week says the Great Basin probably will have an average fire season.