As wildfire season arrives in Southern Utah, authorities ask public to prepare early

The scene of a fire involving outbuildings in Ivins, Utah, May 19, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Corey Kealiher, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Wildfire season has arrived in Southern Utah, and authorities are asking the public to prepare for the summer and make wise decisions about fire safety.

File photo of a structure fire at Duck Creek Village, Utah, May 2, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Cedar Mountain Fire Protection District, St. George News / Cedar City News

Agencies across the state have issued alerts in recent days asking the public to practice responsible fire safety and warning the public about drought conditions. The Bureau of Land Management issued a prevention order on Tuesday prohibiting the use of explosive material, fireworks or steel component ammunition on BLM land across Utah, according to a press release. 

“We need to do all that we can to not only take the measures to protect our homes and property but support our local firefighters and first responders,” BLM state fire management officer Chris Delaney said in the press release. “This season more than ever, it is vital that we work together to help lessen the exposure for our firefighters and first responders.”

Those who violate the order can be fined up to $1,000 and/or receive time in prison for up to one year, according to the release. In addition, anyone responsible for starting wildland fires on federal lands can be billed for the cost of fire suppression.

Rocky Mountain Power also issued a Public Safety Power Shutoff watch for parts of Washington and Iron counties, including Cedar City, Enterprise, Dixie and Milford. According to a press release, forecasts indicate high winds and elevated fire conditions in the areas and the watch will be in effect through Friday afternoon.

Approximately 680 customers in extreme risk areas have been notified of the potential Public Safety Power Shutoff through phone calls, email and text messages, a release issued Thursday said. These customers will continue to receive notifications prior to a Public Safety Power Shutoff or if the watch is canceled, the release states. Communities under the watch include Milford, Cedar City and Enterprise.

The scene of a fire involving outbuildings in Ivins, Utah, May 19, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Corey Kealiher, St. George News

Power outages can occur during high-wind events, and a public safety power shutoff is a proactive measure to mitigate wildfire risk in the face of hazardous fire weather conditions including extreme low humidity, dry vegetation and sustained high winds and elevated counts on key weather indexes, according to the press release. 

“The safety of the communities we serve is our top priority and issuing a Public Safety Power Shutoff watch gives our customers some time to prepare ahead of a potential outage,” Curtis Mansfield, senior vice president of operations, said in the release. “Our meteorologist and emergency management teams have monitored this evolving weather system for several days and recent updates by the National Weather Service has us prepared to respond in the event of any outages caused by the incoming high winds.”

Weather-related power outages can happen during high wind events. The company urges customers to follow emergency management official recommendations to have a plan and be prepared. For all non-emergency questions about the Public Safety Power Shutoff watch, customers and the public should call Rocky Mountain Power at 888-221-7070.

Additionally, the National Weather Service has also issued a red flag warning through 9 p.m. Saturday in Kane, Garfield, Iron and Washington counties. The warning forecasts high winds and low humidity. Outdoor burning is not recommended, according to the advisory. 

How to prepare

There are ways to prepare at home for wildfire season and make sure your home and family are protected. The scant amount of rain that Utah received in May indicates an above normal fire season, Verdugo Fire Academy Chief Sam DiGiovanna told St. George News via email. For this reason, he said that residents should be prepared to face the threat of wildfires from the roof down to the driveway.

In this file photo, fire crews working to extinguish burning Items such as crates, electronics, stored outside the buildings of Stone Castle Recycling Parowan, Utah, March 2, 2014 | Photo by Corey McNeil, St. George News

“It’s about common sense during wildfires,” he wrote. “If you can see the smoke, if you can smell the smoke, chances are the particulate matter levels are high. If you can do that, you should exercise caution.”

DiGiovanna recommended that homeowners do the following:

  • Build roofs with materials such as composition, metal or tile. Block any spaces between roof decking and covering to prevent embers from catching. Wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire. 
  • Cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh because they can melt and burn. Check with your local fire department for codes.
  • Protect eaves and soffits with ignition-resistant or non-combustible materials.
  • Ensure that all combustible items are removed from underneath your deck.
  • Keep rain gutters clear or enclose rain gutters to prevent accumulation of leaves, needles and debris from the winds.
  • Cover your chimney and outlets with a non-flammable screen. Use metal screen material with openings no smaller than 3/8-inch and no larger than 1/2-inch to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire. Check with your local fire department for codes.
  • Have a fire extinguisher and tools such as a shovel, rake, bucket and hose available for fire emergencies. Install weather stripping around and under the garage door to prevent embers from blowing in. Store all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
  • Consider maintaining access roads with a minimum of 10 feet of clearance on either side, allowing for two-way traffic. Ensure that all driveway gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment. Trim trees and shrubs overhanging the road to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
  • Make sure your address is clearly visible from the road.

DiGivovanna also encouraged residents to keep multiple hoses that can reach all areas of the property. If air quality is poor, he said residents should stay indoors, close all doors and windows and avoid vigorous outdoor activity. When the smoke subsides, residents should open the windows to clear out the home. N-95 and P100 respirator masks can also help protect people from breathing in smoke particles, he said. 

When in a car, drivers should keep the windows rolled up and run the air conditioner. Sheltering in a car is not recommended.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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