UTAH — 2022 has been a tough year across the state for wildfires, with 963 reported fires taking place, burning 25,551 acres. A mere 1,014 of those acres burned due to natural causes. This year’s Utah Wildfire Annual Report details a long list of successes in the state’s efforts to reduce wildfires, even if an uphill battle with a long road lies ahead.
The stark difference in wildfire totals between human and natural causes has been the fuel behind the Fire Sense push from all levels of government in Utah. The goal has always been to make the public aware and think about their actions, as it can be something relatively insignificant that leads to wildfire breaking out. Of the 466 human-caused fires, the top three sources were motor vehicles, debris or open burning, and campfires. July had the highest number of wildfires for the year.
There is progress, however, as the number of human-caused fires has significantly reduced since 2020, dropping from 946 to 466 in 2022. This is a big step forward for Utah, with only 49% of fires being human-caused. There is one caveat, 62 of the 2022’s wildfire occurrences have a cause listed as undetermined. Among the top 15 fires in 2022, only two were naturally caused, with their source being lightning. The largest fire of the year was Halfway Hill, which burned 11,702 acres.
Regardless of the cause, wildland firefighters have responded quickly, leading to a 94% success rate in limiting fires to 10 or fewer acres. The success has come with thousands of hours of effort, with the 3701 certified wildland firefighters working a total of 111,500 hours and driving 342,000 miles. Wildland firefighter crews are dispatched based on location, meaning that anyone wildfire can be in-state, federal, local, or out-of-state, regardless of agency affiliation.
Key to their success are aircraft, which combined flew over 200 hours in their battle to suppress fires using 771,400 gallons of water. 2022 also marked the first year of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands pursuing an aviation program leading to contracting two type-1 helicopters from the Croman Corporation. Type 1 helicopters can typically carry around 700 gallons of liquid in an internal tank, whether water or flame retardant. The state has already extended the contract for five years.
Emphasis on reducing wildland fire risk has also been made during 2022. Numerous fuel reduction projects were carried out across the state bringing federal, state, county, city, and private businesses together in a coordinated effort. 4,930 hours alone were worked on state fuels reductions projects. Both Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort carried out prescribed burns in the fall.