Spring rain isn't all good news for summer
Date:Wednesday, May 14 @ 00:00:30 MDT
Topic:Front Page

The recent spring rainfall in Utah County has fire officials preparing for "an explosive fire situation," said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta National Forest Service.

"The worst-case scenario would be that we continue to have storms in May and June, which encouragesthe growth of the cheat grass and some of those other non-native species that burn very quickly," she said.

Pete Karp, director of the Uinta National Forest Service, told Utah County mayors in a recent meeting that the Forest Service is preparing for a fire season "like last year or even more active than last year. The cheat grass looks nice and green right now but later this month or the first of June it is going to turn that lavender color and then not long after that it will be brown, and not long after that it doesn't take much at all to flash that fuel."

Dean Miner, of the Utah State University Extension Service, said the grasses will begin to dry out by the first week of June.

"If you get heavy rains you get a real bumper crop," he said. "One of the problems is that nothing will eat it. Some of the other grasses at least serve as a feed source for both livestock and wild game, but the cheat grass, once it gets the seed head, it has structures kind of like stickers that get caught in the animals' jaws and get infected, so that animals won't eat it."

Forest Service officials have now hired most of their summer fire crews, Clark said -- and as temperatures warm, they are preparing for an early fire season.

"Our fire season usually starts the first part of July but temperatures are supposed to warm up this week into the high 70s, and if that pattern continues we could quickly move into an early fire season," she said.

Because of air tanker crashes last year in Colorado and California, the Forest Service has chosen not to renew contracts for two types of air tankers, she said, reducing the number of air tankers available in the West.

"We are going to rely quite heavily on local resources to help with initial attack," she said.

The Forest Service also has distributed information to hillside communities about planting fire-resistant landscaping and removing scrub oak and brush away from homes.

The Forest Service will position three engine crews and two squads of firefighters around the valley, totaling 31 firefighters, said Chuck Wentlender, fire management officer for the Forest Service. A helicopter and 10-person crew also will be on call throughout the summer at the Provo Municipal Airport.

For more information about fire prevention or prescribed burn projects, contact the Uinta National Forest supervisor's office at 342-5100.