Sunday, October 9, 2016

2014 Interim: Forest Fires

Earlier this month, I listened to the national news about the large number of wild fires burning in California due to the extreme drought conditions. My heart went out to those impacted by the fires and I hope for the health and safety of the firefighters. Though it is still spring in Utah, we are on the verge of our own wild fire season. As a desert state with large swaths of open land, it is very important that we protect ourselves against costly and damaging wild fires. 

There are numerous fires each year that are attributed to human actions and so we must be mindful as the weather warms, schools are out for the summer and families start vacations to be very careful with campfires, target shooting and fireworks. Fires are expensive to fight and the aftermath can be extremely costly as well so it is important to keep in mind that fire related expenses are funded out of your tax dollars. If we can reduce the fires we as human cause, those funds can be reallocated to other uses.

Of course lightning starts many wild fires too. There isn’t much we can do to stop lightning, so instead we must focus on programs that prevent wild fires from become catastrophes. Studies have shown that for every $1 we invest in prevention, we save $17 in fire fighting cost. Last December the Catastrophic Wildfire Reduction Steering Committee identified regional projects that could be undertaken to help reduce our fire risk. In addition, the Legislature passed SCR 7 Concurrent Resolution on Comprehensive Statewide Wildland Fire Prevention, Preparedness and Suppression Policy to urge coordination by all level of government on the best use of time and resources to prevent wild fires 

Some of the projects recommended are taking place near us in the Dixie National Forest. Prescribed burns are being employed in some parts of the forest to reduced downed debris and rejuvenate timber stands. This type of project is employed when personnel, resources and weather conditions are all at optimum levels to accomplish the goals without risk of the fire getting out of control. Other parts of the forest may see strategic logging or other project that are intended to keep the forest health or improve firebreaks or access roads.

Our local fire fighters are our first line of defense for wild fires. It takes time to deploy hotshot crews or other specialty resources. Fires, of course, don’t wait for special crews to arrive. Locals have to be ready to start the fight and assess the situation. This past session the Legislature appropriated $75,000 in new on-going annual funding to wild fire land training for local fire departments. While I hope our local crews don’t have to deploy, having the knowledge and skills to manage the wild fire response from the beginning will hopefully pay dividends in fires stopped quickly.

I’m hoping that our investments in better coordination, prevention and training will mean a quiet and safe fire year for Utah. Please remember to practice fight safety this summer and consult if you have questions about how you can   help reduce our fire danger this summer.

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