SALT LAKE CITY — 2018 will go down as one of the most destructive years in over a decade for fires in the state of Utah.
In 2017, only 37 structures were destroyed in Utah. So far in 2018, officials estimate ten times as many – 370 – have been destroyed. The closest year Utah has ever seen destruction anywhere near that level was 2012, when 332 structures were lost.
The vast majority of structures lost this year came from the Dollar Ridge Fire, in Duchesne and Wasatch Counties. Jason Curry with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands says fire behavior this year has been nothing short of explosive.
“The light fuels were abundant, and they were very dry. The heavy fuels are abundant, especially in that area where there’s a lot of build-up of timber – and they’re also very dry,” he says. “We had the highest indices for the explosiveness of the fuels than we had before.”
Curry says investigators still haven’t determined who started the Dollar Ridge Fire, but it was human-caused. Leads, though, he says have been hard to come by.
“We’ve checked the area thoroughly where it started. We’re very certain of where it started because we had aircraft on scene very quickly. There was nobody around. In fact, there are no roads, no trails, no anything leading to that spot,” Curry says.
Trends over the past few decades are a concern, according to National Interagency Fire Center spokesperson Jennifer Jones.
“That is longer fire seasons, fire seasons starting earlier in the spring, lasting longer into the fall. More large wildfires,” Jones says.
All of that, Jones says, has resulted in firefighters changing how they fight fires, in order to keep themselves safe while still protecting the lives and property of others.
“Because of the fire behavior that we’re seeing,” Jones says, “a lot of our firefighters are telling us they are seeing the most extreme fire behavior they’ve seen in their careers that span many decades.”
The center says there has also been an increase in the average number of acres burned every year nationwide.
According to the Deseret News, over 158,000 acres have been charred by fires in 2018 in Utah, but that’s not the record. In 2012, more than 415,000 acres burned.
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