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Officials warn of higher wildfire risk despite winter's record snowpack

Red Bridge Fire burning southwest of Randlett, Utah on Sunday, 4/23/23 (Courtesy:{ }{ }Kasilyn Winn).{p}{/p}
Red Bridge Fire burning southwest of Randlett, Utah on Sunday, 4/23/23 (Courtesy: Kasilyn Winn).

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"We will get fires whether we have a 'low' fire potential year or a 'normal' fire potential year. We always have fires," said Gina Palma, a Fire Meteorologist with the Great Basin Coordination Center. "That's important for everybody to remember."

Recently, Predictive Services at the Great Basin Coordination Center released the four-month outlook report of the wildfire and fuel moisture potential. The reports are updated on the first day of each month.

“...Things are very different going into this year as opposed to where we were this time last year," said Palma. “In a lot of respects: both with snowpack, precipitation, drought, fuel conditions, really everything...”


Palma anticipated the rest of April to hover in the 'normal' category for wildfire potential, with higher elevations in parts of Utah dipping into the 'below normal' category for May and June.

"We haven’t had 'below normal' fire potential in any area of the Great Basin, much less Utah, in years," said Palma. "It takes a lot, and we have a lot of snow."

With snowpack data at 200% or higher in some parts of Utah, the next weeks and potentially months indicate above normal fuel moisture across the Great Basin. However, new fine fuel growth is likely this year due to winter and spring precipitation, but carryover fine fuels are expected to be lower.

“In drought years, people are always surprised that sometimes we don’t burn a lot of acreage and it’s because it’s dry and we don’t have a lot of grasses growing," said Palma. "It’s really hard--when you don’t have any water--to have grass grow... and deep into multi-year droughts we tend to not see a lot of large, fast moving grass fires because we don’t have the fine fuels.”

Trends in some of the data show that years coming out of drought tend to lead to an increase of fires and acres burned This occurs specifically in western Utah, when a very wet year follows an average/wet winter the previous year. Personnel with Predictive Services said they are also monitoring the monsoon potential and how that could impact the late-summer months.

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“If we don’t see the monsoon rains or we see a delay or they’re weaker than normal, we could see areas of Utah start picking up with fire activity and fire potential in July and August when that would normally be the time to quiet down," Palma said.

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