Authorities investigate Lake Mt. fires,


SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The exact cause of two wildfires that burned Sunday in Utah County may not be known for weeks, authorities say.

Jason Curry, a fire investigator with the Utah Division of Forestry, said that the fires were caused by human activity, but that an investigation would have to be complete before officials could pinpoint a specific cause. Curry estimated that the investigation could take between two and four weeks to complete.

Both fires broke out Sunday afternoon in the Saratoga Springs area. The first blaze was located on south Lake Mountain. It was reported around 1 p.m. and burned a total of 11 acres. The second was reported around 2:30 p.m. It burned five and a half acres north of the first fire, but still south of Saratoga Springs. Neither fire damaged buildings.

Though authorities still do not know what caused the fires, they say that the danger of additional, even more destructive blazes is significant. According to Curry, the unseasonably wet spring led to more grass growth along the Wasatch Front, which now is drying out and becoming easily combustible.

"It's ready to burn and receptive to any spark," Curry said.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby added that the rain and ground moisture has produced more grass this season than during any previous year since at least the late 1990s.

"This year blows all of those years out of the water," she said.

Rigby said that while most wildfires in Utah are caused by lightning, the added grasses mean people should exercise extreme caution when heading to areas such as Lake Mountain or the West Desert. Rigby recommended that those headed into dry wilderness areas bring along a shovel, a fire extinguisher and plenty of extra water. She also said that visitors to wilderness areas should keep in mind that even seemingly innocuous activities can easily ignite a blaze.

"I don't think people should be surprised if they start a fire while target shooting," she said.

According to Rigby, steel ammunition can create a spark when it hits rocks or other metal, while other types of ammunition is designed to burn or catch fires. And once a gun produces a spark, a fire can spread quickly through dry vegetation, Rigby said.

Rigby advised those heading to wilderness or dry areas to choose their destinations carefully. She said that a great place for target practice is in an area that has already burned, of which there are several on Lake Mountain and along the western shore of Utah Lake. She also suggested potential shooters aim away from anything that could possibly cause a spark.

And if a fire is ignited, Rigby said that people should never flee authorities. Investigators will want to know exactly what happened so they can prevent future blazes, Rigby said. She also said fleeing the scene of a wildfire is a crime.

"People would be better off reporting it and letting the chips fall where they may," Rigby said.

According to Rigby, BLM authorities also are taking extra precautions to prevent destructive fires. Crews have been recalled from assisting other states across the country, Rigby said, and personnel and equipment are on call whenever conditions become conducive to wildfires.


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