2013 wildfire outlook better than last year

Jun 7, 2013

Last year's wildfire season was one of the worst in recent memory and this year Utah is still in a drought. Reporter Kim Schuske talked to Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to see what the agency is predicting for this year.

A new water report from the National Resource Conservation Service says Utah’s precipitation in May was below average across the state and reservoir storage is 15 percent less than last year.

"The whole state is really in a state of moderate to severe drought. You know, you go into Southern Utah and it’s closer to the severe levels," Jason Curry said.

Curry is with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. He says despite these dry conditions, Utah looks better in terms of wildfire danger this year than last.

An aerial tanker drops fire retardant on a Utah wildfire.
Credit Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands

"Fuel moisture: last year at this time in the grasses was somewhere among 4 to 5 percent. This year, last I heard, it varies based on where you’re at within the state, it’s in the teens," Curry said.

Another indicator is sage brush.

"Sage brush last year was peaking in its moisture levels around the last part of May, so it began to dry out in June and got even drier and drier as June progressed on," Curry said. "This year the moisture level in sage brush is peaking right about now."

The higher water level in grasses and sage brush at this time of year is encouraging Curry said. He adds it’s predicted to be a normal to above normal fire season this year, but mother nature is ultimately in charge.

"The things that go into fire danger are obviously high temperatures, dry fuel moistures and the big factor is wind," Curry said. "We will probably see some days that are hot, dry and windy. So that’s kind of the magic combination in terms of volatile fire behavior."

Curry said the majority of fires in May and June are caused by humans.

"Last year at about the middle of June, I think 97 percent of all fires at that point had been human caused," he said. " Because we don’t get a lot of lightening caused fires this early."

So far there have been approximately 130 fires in Utah, almost all of them smaller than 100 acres. Last year there were twice as many by the first week of June.