Fire restrictions in effect at Zion National Park after fire spreads in campground

A small fire broke out at the Watchman Campground on Memorial Day but there were no injuries or damage done to the RVs in the area, Zion National Park, Utah, May 25, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Zion National Park officially moved into level two fire restrictions June 1 as a result of dry grass and high fire danger.

The restrictions came just a week after a fire on Memorial Day occurred at the Watchman Campground because of a campfire that was left unextinguished.

The campers left the fire to go to bed, and the embers were picked up by the wind, sparking the flames in the grass around the campsite. There was no major damage to any RVs in the surrounding area, but there was some damage to some decorative logs in the Watchman Campground.

After the spring burn season around Washington county ended early due to many runaway fires, Zion is following suit and taking action to make sure they limit fires in the park and at campsites.

With the start of summer and the dry heat coming with it, Zion National Park fire management officer Greg Bartin said the conditions could lead to large and rapid fire growth.

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City has issued a red flag warning for all of Washington County on Friday, including Zion National Park, due to high winds, low humidity and high temperatures. These are the conditions that Bartin is referring to, adding that these restrictions are standard in the park around this time of year.

Posted by Zion National Park on Friday, May 29, 2020

“Out of an abundance of caution, Zion National Park decided in concert with our area partners that we would enter level two fire restrictions, which ban all campfires and all open flames,” Bartin said.

Fire fuels and brush in the park have also grown at a higher rate as a result of wetter winters over the last couple of years, which heightens the fire risks. The addition of slow fire seasons to those damper conditions create potentially dangerous conditions in the grass around the park.

A sign welcomes visitors to Zion National Park at the park’s pedestrian entrance, Zion National Park, Utah, May 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Increased visitation is another aspect that added to the need to heighten restrictions on fires within the park.

“It’s created a sense of awareness in area land managers where we’re taking some precautions to make sure that folks stay safe, and some of those precautions are fire restrictions,” Bartin said.

Bartin said visitors to the park have been following the fire restrictions and people have been receptive of them. He expects these fire restrictions to remain until after monsoon season, which could mean no open fires within the park until possibly August or Labor Day. This is dependent on when the monsoons arrive and how vegetation responds to the wetter conditions.

As for the current level two restrictions, there are no cooking stoves or open flames allowed without an on and off switch. Charcoal, campfires and other open flames that are not controlled by a switch are not allowed within the park.

Zion National Park’s south entrance prepares to welcome visitors, Zion National Park, Utah, May 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina

“We have been taking some mitigating actions in the campground in order to try and keep campers more safe from fires,” Bartin said. “We’ve started a mowing program where we use weed eaters to trim the grasses in between the campsites. We’ve tried to do so expeditiously this year since our folks are coming later than they normally would due to COVID-19 and our response to the ongoing virus conditions. Some of that mowing helped slow that fire down a couple of weekends ago and actually inhibited one of the RVs from being negatively impacted by that fire.”

Bartin said if mowing and maintenance had not been done on the grass around the Watchman campsite, the fire on Memorial Day could have been much worse.

Here are the guidelines from Zion National Park regarding the level two fire restrictions:

  • Setting, building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire (including charcoal) in campgrounds, picnic areas, or permanently improved places of habitation is prohibited.
  • Stoves and grills fueled by petroleum fuels such as Liquid Propane Gas (LPG), butane or white gas are allowed.
  • Smoking in vegetated areas is not allowed. Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle, or a developed recreation site clear of vegetation, or other areas devoid of vegetation with a minimum of 3 feet in diameter clear down to mineral soil, is prohibited.  
  • Discharging or using any kind of fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices is prohibited at all times on all federal lands, including Zion National Park. Violation of this rule is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than 12 months, or both.

For information concerning fire restrictions in Zion National Park call (435) 772-3256.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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