SOUTHERN UTAH – Fire season has blazed across the Southwest with an early fury this year. Bureau of Land Management’s Color Country Public Information Officer, Nick Howell, says that it can be deceiving because the past two years have had relatively minimal fire activity in Southern Utah, but this is pretty typical – although it has emerged earlier than usual.
The difference this year according to Howell is that we are seeing more human caused fires than usual.
In Southern Utah’s five county wide color country area [Counties of Washington, Kane, Iron, Garfield and Beaver] along with the Northern Arizona strip region with which BLM’s Color Country partners, Howell says that data from multiple agencies, not just BLM, indicate that 2011 has already seen 40 human caused fires, burning a total of 2,742 acres, with only 4 other fires that are naturally caused (most frequently by lightning). By contrast, in 2010, this region saw 89 human caused fires in the whole year – but only 23 of those occurred before June 30. In other words, statistics on human caused fires to date this year put those considerably ahead of the norm.
Utah’s legislature, in its 2011 Session, amended its Fire Prevention and Fireworks Act, pursuant to HB0022 to allow certain fireworks for sale to the public that haven’t previously been available for sale in Utah, fireworks that are aerial in nature, with extended time periods that fireworks can be used.
Previously, allowable fireworks for consumer use were legally discharged within three days before and after July 4 and July 24 as well as on January 1. The amended law allows the use for an entire month’s period running from June 26 to July 26, on both December 31 and January 1, as well as the day before and on the Chinese New Year.
Given a particularly fire prone environment this year, as already evident, the BLM and the Color Country Interagency Fire Management authorities, are implementing fire restrictions on all public lands and unincorporated state and private lands in Washington County, Utah, all BLM-administered public lands within the Arizona Strip District in Coconino and Mohave Counties in Arizona.
Restrictions also include all Bureau of Indian Affairs administered trust lands on the Shivwits Band and Kaibab Band Reservations and all Forest Service administered lands on the Pine Valley Ranger District.
No fireworks are permitted on federal lands.
These additional urgent restrictions go into effect this Friday, June 24 at 12:01 a.m. and include the following prohibitions:
1. Setting, building, maintaining, attending or using open fire of any kind, except campfires and charcoal fires within agency approved fire pits and grills provided for in developed recreation sites and picnic areas or except as otherwise authorized (except for the Virgin River Gorge Campground in Arizona which is under previous restrictions that remain in effect). Devices fueled by petroleum or LPG products are allowed in all locations. In Zion National Park, campfires are not allowed in Watchman and South Campgrounds, but propane or gas stoves are permitted.
2. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, camp trailer, building, developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least six feet in diameter that is barren or cleared to mineral soil.
3. Discharging, or using any kind of fireworks, tracer ammunition or other incendiary devices in any location on federal, state and unincorporated private lands. (Note that these acts are always prohibited on state and federal lands.)
4. The cutting, welding or grinding of metal in areas of dry vegetation (federal, state and unincorporated private lands in Washington County, Utah)/
All other fire restrictions or necessary exemptions to the restrictions will be handled through local “permits” issued by the responsible agency for that purpose.
It should be noted that these restrictions do not apply to incorporated towns and cities. Howell indicates that a lot of cities have designated areas in which the enjoyment of fireworks is allowable. The public is well advised to heed such allowances and restrictions each of those impose. La Verkin, for example, has already issued its own policy.
Howell also offers some common sense fireworks safety tips:
• Be aware of your surroundings. Do not ignite fireworks near vegetated areas or where you could start structural fires, which often happens.
• Do not discard expended fireworks into trashcans. Howell says, “we see a lot of trash can fires because people throw them in the trash thinking they are out.”
• After you’ve ignited your fireworks, put them in a bucket of water (rather than the trash) or leave them in the gutter until the next morning.
• If you attempt to ignite a firework and it does not go off, Howell says you should leave it alone, do not attempt to reignite – doing so can not only increase fire hazard but personal injury risk as well.
• Unless a firework is designed to be hand held (like a sparkler), do not hold a firework in your hand. Howell says that you should always ignite such fireworks on a flat level surface.
• Before you begin your fireworks festivities, preparedness is key. Howell says that this includes having a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby as well as a shovel.
Finally, ”I would advise avoiding lighting fireworks under windy conditions. We want everyone to enjoy their holiday, but if there is wind it is best to put off the fireworks to another day”
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