USA – SALT LAKE CITY — Just five months into the year and Utah has already had 185 wildfires, with more than 6,000 acres burned across the state; all but three were human caused fires.
“Conditions are really alarming across the state. We are concerned,” said Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL) fire prevention coordinator, Kait Webb. “There’s drought over almost the entire state right now, and we are anticipating hot and dry summer.”
According to FFSL, fire managers across Utah are reporting fuel moisture levels and fire activity not usually seen until the hotter and drier months of June and July.
“As the season continues to warm up, and we continue to dry out, we’re expecting those conditions to maintain that severity that we’re seeing right now, and potentially even increase,” Webb added.
182 of the 185 wildfires this year have been human caused. Webb said the majority come from debris burns, vehicle starts and campfires, but what’s alarming to the FFSL is nine of those fires have been caused by firearms or target shooting.
“Nine for this time of year is higher than normal,” she said. “We’ve tended in the past to only see a total for a year in the teens.”
The Range Fire, which started in October of 2020, was caused by target shooting. It burned over 3,000 acres outside of Orem, and caused evacuations for several homes in the area.
“There’s a couple things people can do to be safe when they’re target shooting,” said Unified Fire Authority spokesman, Matthew McFarland. “Make sure you’re setting up your targets on dirt and gravel areas, not in any area that has vegetation. If there is vegetation around within that area at all you’re going to create a higher risk factor.”
Both Webb and McFarland add that shooters need to pay close attention to the targets and ammunition they use.
“Using a paper or clay target is a great option,” Webb said.
“When it comes to ammo, steel core and solid copper ammunition is going to have the highest potential for sparking off a fire, steel core especially,” McFarland added. “The least potential is going to come with a lead slug.”
They suggest bringing a shovel and fire extinguisher when shooting outdoors, and to always check that it’s allowed in the area before heading out. McFarland added that tracer rounds — where gunpowder is blended with a metallic fuel so the bullet’s flight path can be seen — as well as all incendiary rounds and targets are banned on all state lands.
Whether you are target shooting, camping, or simply going for a canyon drive, Webb said it’s important to pay attention to fire forecasts and risk levels.
“We can’t control drought conditions, we can’t control the weather, but we can control whether or not we are causing these preventable human caused wildfires,” she added.
Webb encourages everyone in the state to make sure their cars are in proper working order, and to check for any loose or hanging parts, which could create sparks while driving.