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  • April Fires Bring Stark Reminder Of How Drought Tolls Impact Rural Communities In Utah
    by Carin Miller
    Published - 04/29/14 - 12:00 PM | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    A Cedar City fire on Friday raised considerations about moving the Utah fire season up for the 2014 recreation season.
    A Cedar City fire on Friday raised considerations about moving the Utah fire season up for the 2014 recreation season.
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    (CEDAR CITY, Utah) – Friday’s Cedar City fire that burned 40 acres of land, and threatened nearly 30 resident’s homes served as a clear reminder that after three years of droughts Southern Utah residents must be cautious as warmer weather approaches.

    Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Southwest Area Fire Management Officer Mike Melton said it took the help of seven separate agencies and departments, from Iron County and the state, about three hours to achieve 100 percent containment status. He said the 25 mph sustained winds, with up to 40 mph gusts were no help, and as a result 40 acres of land was lost to the blaze.

    "We were fortunate that it didn't get any worse," he said. "They had it contained by 7 o'clock Friday night - definitely, the rain that we had seen overnight helped everything out."

    Melton said there were no reports of houses lost or property damaged. Though previous reports stated that many of the homes in danger had been evacuated, Melton said the few that chose to leave voluntarily evacuated, and no official evacuation was initiated, although official were prepared to do so if it became necessary.

    As of Saturday the source of the fire was still under investigation, but Melton said it was believed to have begun with an attempted controlled burn that grew out of control.

    "That investigation, I want to stress, is ongoing," he said.

    Melton said that current moisture levels are incredibly low in Southern Utah, because drought conditions have continued for three years – leaving the high desert valley a combustible habitat primed for disastrous opportunity.

    "It's a lot drier than people seem to think out is out there," he said. "People need to check with their local fire authorities to see what the rules are before they even strike a match to do a debris burn."

    Melton said that officials weren't sure yet, but they were considering starting three official fire season early this year. He said that given the recent moisture the state has received, there may not be a need right away, but moving the date up was certainly an option being explored by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

    According to a recent study, Re-examining Drought in Utah, published by the University of Utah, found at http://climate.usurf.usu.edu/news/120909UCC%20Drought.pdf, the drought conditions recently experienced in Utah are not a new or unique disposition to the terrain.

    The study reported that researchers have not only established a pattern for the fluctuations in climate in Utah, but also the mechanism that drives the weather variations.

    "This is important, because cyclic behavior suggests some potential for prediction," the study reported. "It’s also important because historically, climatic precipitation data are viewed in 30-year averages."

    While a 30-year cycle makes sense in areas that have a yearly rain cycle, the study stated that the climate in the Great Basin area is much more complex. According to the study, sea surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean are directly linked to Utah precipitation cycles.

    It went on to say that, after examining multiple lines of evidence, the typically accepted 30-year cycle of precipitation adopted in other regions of the country did not apply to Utah weather patterns.

    "Short-term – 12-year cycles – are evident in the instrumental records dating back 60 years; Great Salt Lake shoreline data dating back a century; and tree ring data dating back 900 years," it reported. "Longer-term cycles are also evident in the shoreline and tree ring data."

    The information uncovered revealed to researchers that there was nothing random about the cycles of dryness and precipitation in Utah, but rather that they are cyclical in nature and incredibly precise. Nearly a thousand years of precipitation estimates examined by researchers indicated that, historically, Utah droughts have been much deeper, and longer than they have during recent years.

    “In fact, in the context of the past thousand years, 20th-century Utah – and the latter half in particular – has been exceptionally wet.” It reported. “This is important because it suggests that in future years we cannot count on the relatively high levels of precipitation that have coincided with the state’s explosive growth.”

    Given the current environmental conditions, and the lack of precipitation, Melton said it is fundamental that anyone looking to do a residential, controlled burn, must contact their closest fire department first to find out what procedures should be followed, or if the burn is even allowed.

    Recreational outdoor enthusiasts could find useful information at www.utahfireinfo.gov, an interactive website designed to offer the most up to date information about Utah fire restrictions.

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