Dangerous Fire Season Can Be Brush With Disaster

Dangerous Fire Season Can Be Brush With Disaster

26 January 2009

published by new.hvjournal.com

USA — Monumental amounts of winter rain have catapulted Utah out of its drought,but that same rain is causing problems for firefighters who battle blazes on abnormally high grasses.

   “We’ve had a lot of growth this year. It’s kind of unprecedented,”said Hurricane Fire Chief Eddie Campbell. “We’re averaging about two calls a day for the last two weeks. That’s just in our area,let alone the rest of the county.”

   Since the water year began Oct. 1,more than 14 inches of rain have fallen in southern Utah,which is nearly double the annual average with more than three months before the end of the water year. This has put needed water in Washington County reservoirs,but has also prompted wild grasses to grow higher than normal.

   Last week the Bureau of Land Management in Utah announced a prohibition on open burns throughout Washington County,with the exception of campfires in designated campground pits.

   “This is the earliest I know of that they’ve put this notice out,”said Campbell,adding that it even restricts agricultural burns,which aren’t usually restricted until later in the summer season.

   Zion National Park has also instituted fire restrictions that include prohibiting campfires at designated campgrounds. According to a park statement,“Park officials feel that the risk to public safety and structures in Zion National Park from human-caused fire is great enough that these restrictions are necessary.”

   The restriction also prohibits smoking on all trails and mentions the restriction of fireworks,which is already prohibited on all federal lands. Three human-caused fires have already affected the park this spring.

   The Hurricane Fire Department has responded to sometimes three or four brush fires a day in the Hurricane area in recent weeks. Many fires were controlled burns that got out of control. Because of the high grasses and dry brush,controlled burns cannot be confined with just a garden hose,said Campbell;part of the reason fire officials have put an end to burning for the season.

“Most of the fires in our immediate response [area] have been held to two to three acres …I know that’s not going to hold,”said Campbell. “There will come a time when high winds or a delayed response will cause a loss of wildlife or loss of a structure. So we’re doing everything we can to prevent that.”

   Part of that prevention campaign is an effort to educate the public.

   Hot embers from a cigarette or other burned items can quickly ignite other materials. The Hurricane Fire Department recently responded to a fire near Sand Hollow Reservoir where a garbage truck’s load caught on fire and had to dump its contents in the road to prevent the truck from catching fire. This led to a roadside brush fire that was contained and put out by the fire department. It was later determined that hot ashes from a trash can being picked up that day set fire to the rest of the garbage truck contents.

Fireworks are also a major cause of area fires and are readily available,despite being illegal in Utah until the week window surrounding Independence Day. Illegal bottle rockets started three brush fires in the Hurricane area so far this season. People using illegal fireworks can be cited by police for use of illegal fireworks and/or reckless burning if a fire gets out of control,which can cost fire agencies hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Campbell has stopped short of banning fireworks this Fourth of July season because it would be difficult to monitor and watch over the policing effort,plus Hurricane area fireworks stands must order their fireworks in January,so banning them now would prevent fireworks that are already on their way,said Campbell.

   “We certainly don’t want people to not have fun. We want people to celebrate the holidays and be patriotic,”said Campbell. “We’re as patriotic as anyone,but we have to deal with the aftermath. We just want people to be safe.”

   Campbell warns adolescents and parents that it is illegal for those under 16 in Utah to purchase even legal fireworks. He also advises people who use fireworks to always have a hose nearby to help lessen the effects of accidents. It’s also a good idea to have a bucket with water to dispose of used fireworks,since many injuries involving holiday festivities include small children picking up hot sparkler wires,said Campbell.

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