Rains not enough to dampen fire danger
Jul 22, 2009 | 7606 views | 0 0 comments | 1363 1363 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Recent wildland fires on Pine Ridge near La Sal and the Chippean Rocks Fire near Blanding demonstrate that fire danger is real in southeast Utah despite this year’s unusually damp, cool summer.

The lightning-ignited fires, while small, were dramatic because of the amount of dry, hazardous fuels that had accumulated in both areas, according to Brian Mattox, Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Moab/Monticello Ranger District of the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

While the Pine Ridge fires burned 80 acres of ponderosa pine, the Chippean Rocks Fire was held to just over two acres of ponderosa, manzanita and scrub oak. The potential of each of these recent fires to engulf a much larger area was averted by the swift action of interagency fire crews.

Fighting natural and man-made wildfires on public lands is a big part of the federal land- management mission.

In recent years, land-management agencies have reintroduced fire into the landscape through short, controlled burns to reduce the fuels that have piled up over many decades of intense fire prevention efforts.

These fuels — if not reduced through prescribed burns, careful management of naturally occurring fires and other types of mechanical clearing — can turn a relatively innocuous fire into a devastating, large-scale inferno that endangers lives and property.

The Porcupine Ranch Fire in September, 2008 is an example of such a fire. The blaze consumed 3,000 acres of scrub oak and pinyon-juniper forest in six hours, trapping hikers in Miners Basin near Castle Valley for several hours before fire crews could rescue them.

Two fires in the Matheson Wetlands Preserve near Moab — one in July, 2008 and the other in October, 2008 — burned more than 550 acres and frightened area residents and visitors.

“Fighting a wildfire — crisis management— is a costly form of resource management,” said Mattox. “It’s cheaper, and the fires are less severe and dangerous to firefighters and the public, when hazardous fuels are reduced through prescribed burns and other management techniques.”

It’s also better for the environment. Brief, low-intensity fires regenerate forests, rangelands, wetlands and prairies by eliminating dead and diseased trees and plants, germinating seeds and promoting the diversity of plants and wildlife.

A patchwork of small, controlled fires is immensely preferable to the damage caused by a wildfire that has a seemingly endless supply of fuel on which to feed and grow.

Hikers, off-roaders, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts can help protect public lands from devastating wildfires — and protect themselves at the same time — by using common sense when building campfires, smoking, using chain saws and operating off-road vehicles.

Campfires not contained on level ground inside a fire ring or a deep pit ringed with rocks can easily spread to surrounding trees and grasses. Off-road vehicles and chain saws without spark arresters can ignite fires in dry grasses. For a full list of fire-safe practices, visit www.utahfireinfo.gov/prevention/.

Besides making sure they don’t start fires, the public can protect public lands and surrounding communities by notifying fire officials as soon as they spot a forest or wilderness fire. Call the Moab Interagency Fire Center at 435-259-1850.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
The San Juan Record welcomes comments on our stories. Please be civil, respectful, focused and humane. Postings are not edited and are the responsibility of the author. You agree not to post comments that are abusive, threatening or obscene. Postings may be removed at the discretion of sjrnews.com