Provo, UT, USA — Summer thunder and lightning storms are bringing more than just rain and light shows to the sky. The increase in weather activity has started six wildfires in Utah since the first of the month.
At least 500 lightning strikes have touched the ground since July 1, resulting in the Jacob, Baboon, Birthday, Ford, Cricket and Springs Fires last week. Hand crews, helicopters, engines and personnel successfully extinguished the fires.
However, not all fires in Utah will be put out so quickly. Prescribed and “Wildland Fire Use” fires will be allowed to burn through some areas in the forest.
Prescribed fires are planned for certain areas and started by fire crews.
A Wildland Fire Use fire is started by lightning, but is allowed to play its natural role in the environment and burn. For example, the Engineer Canyon Wildland Fire Use fire was started June 29, 2006 by lightning and as of Friday, was burning under control in the Huntington Canyon area.
Uinta National Forest officials recognize benefits that come from prescribed fires.
“Not all fire is bad,” said Loyal Clark, Uinta National Forest public affairs officer. “We do not allow fire to just burn everything.”
Clark said there are two main reasons the Uinta National Forest allows the prescribed fires. The first is allowing fire to play its natural role in forests. Forest structures have changed as people settled in wooded areas, but before settlers were in the area, lightning would strike the ground, starting fires that would burn themselves out.
“Fires have always been a part of nature and history,” Clark said.
Second, the prescribed fires introduce fire back into the ecosystem. When a fire does not burn through an area for a long time, trees in the forest grow taller, creating a canopy that does not allow vegetation to grow on the ground for lack of sunlight. Animals have to look elsewhere for food. Fires thin the line of trees, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and regenerate growth and food.
Consideration for a prescribed fire involves a lot of planning with national forests. The forest officials only start or allow fires to burn under certain conditions. All of the fires remain under hand crews’ control. Additionally, there is a checklist to make sure there are not any hazards in the area, such as homes, power lines and weather conditions.
“There is a very short window of opportunity. If one thing is wrong, we cancel the whole fire,” Clark said.
When someone hears about a wildfire, they tend to think about the wildfire as a “destroyer of forests, a threat to human safety, and an unacceptable waste,” said a publication from the U.S. Forest Service.
The forest service is trying hard to change these perceptions when they apply to prescribed fires, even to the point of changing the logo of the famous Smokey the Bear to read, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” instead of the traditional “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
However, the service continues to stress to forest visitors that wildfires can still pose a threat to surrounding areas.
As of Friday, the Bull Complex Fire was still burning in southern Utah. The wildfire was burning in rough terrain and was one of the worst fires firefighters have seen in years, said Justin Dombrowski, Bull Complex Fire information officer.
Wildfires are started by lightning or can be started by humans. These fires are not planned, and as soon as they are informed, hand crews start working to put the fires out.
“People need to not let their guard down,” Dombrowski said. “We are still in fire season and the temperatures are hot.”