Friday, July 02, 2004 - 12:00 AM |

Cedar Valley bans fireworks after 12 fires in three weeks

DAILY HERALD


Elisabeth Nardi

It's getting hot in the Cedar Valley.

With 12 fires in three weeks -- six of them considered suspicious -- the volunteer fire team in Cedar Fort has been very busy.

Officials are so concerned with the fires that the county's fire warden has begun an investigation. And Cedar Fort Fire Chief Mike Penovich has banned fireworks in all undeveloped areas of the town. While only one fire has actually been in Cedar Fort's town limits, the volunteer fire team responds to fires in the unincorporated areas of Cedar Valley such as Fairfield and White Hills.

Arson definitely has been identified as the cause of four of the six suspicious fires, Penovich said. Three of the fires have been in the White Hills and Five-Mile Pass area just southwest of Cedar Fort, he said.

None of the fires have burned any structures; they have only scorched several acres of sagebrush and cheat grass, thanks to the quick response of the town's volunteer fire team, Penovich said.

Many of the fires have been very close to the road, and evidence at the scenes has led officials to believe that some of the blazes have been started by the same person, Penovich said.

"It's so early in the year and there are just too many close together in the county -- it's very unusual," he said.

Some of the fires have shown evidence that fireworks were used to ignite the blazes, but the fires seem more deliberate then just kids messing around, Penovich said. The firework ban was in part because of the recent rash of fires. Six volunteer firefighters will be patrolling the area throughout the weekend, he said.

So far the fires have been small, but because the vegetation in Cedar Valley is very dry, the fires pose a real danger. Specifically, the sagebrush and cheat grass along the road see no water unless it rains. And it is drier than it was last year, Penovich said. At this time last year there had only been two fires, he said.

"We have been very lucky," he said. "It is (a) very active (season). The fuel is so dry that some of these fires last year we may never have known about. But this year the fires are taking off and really running."

The problem with arson or human-caused fires is they can be difficult to solve, said Delbert Jay, Utah County Fire Warden, who is investigating the Cedar Valley fires. It's mainly a matter of how much evidence has been left at the scene.

Also, if the arsonist continues to act it may make it easier to catch the person, he said. Specifically, investigators can look at patterns such as time of day the fires occur, the area and the devices used.

"If they continue their behavior then we will get them eventually, and if they don't, well that's good too," Jay said.

But if the fires continue at the rate they have been, Jay is concerned they could turn into major blazes.

"Things are going to change real quick," he said. "The grass has been pretty green. ... we'll wait 'til the fire season really starts, which is actually late July."

Fire officials are asking anyone who sees anything suspicious to call 911.