In Utah, it is unlawful to discharge fireworks — except in certain places and in certain time frames. Those include the four-day windows surrounding the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day, which start two days before and end one day after the holidays.
The purpose of the restrictions is safety, said Jason Curry, a spokesperson for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. That’s because human beings are the greatest fire risk factor in the state.
“About 80% of all the fires so far this year have been human caused,” he said. “And since they were human caused, we know that almost all of them were certainly preventable.”
Of the 130 fires that occurred in Utah last month, 117 were caused by humans, Curry said, adding that fireworks, abandoned campfires and vehicles are common culprits.
“Most of the fires that happen in Utah people don’t hear about,” Curry said. That’s because 95 to 98% of wildfires are contained to less than ten acres.
Fire restrictions are an important part of the state’s fire management strategy.
This year, for example, it will be illegal to set off fireworks in the unincorporated areas of Washington, Kane and Iron Counties unless you are licensed pyrotechnician. Additionally, fireworks are never allowed on U.S. Forest Service, BLM land or National Parks.
Looking past the holidays, the 2019 fire season will be different from last year. Although a similar number of fires are projected, the fire division is expecting to see fewer high-elevation timber fires and more low-elevation grass, brush and desert fires.
The change is due to heavy precipitation earlier this spring, which has led to both abundant grass growth in lowland areas and a large snowpack that is keeping higher elevations wet.
Fire safety will become increasingly important during the drier summer months.
“It’s gonna shut off like a faucet,” Curry said. “We know we’re not going to get much more measurable precipitation and things are going to become more and more hazardous every day.”
To address that hazard, his department has roughly the same budget and personnel as they had in previous years. Curry added that the department works collaboratively with other states’ firefighting forces and federal agencies. That means if Utah finds itself underresourced during this year’s fire season, other states and federal groups will provide additional support.
David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.