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State report shows human-caused wildfires dropped in 2021

David Winegar
The Parleys Canyon Fire burned over 600 acres of land in the Park City area in August.

Despite a record-setting year for drought conditions, the Utah Wildfire Annual report shows a significant decrease in fire damage, thanks in part to humans causing fewer of them. 

In Utah in 2021, over 60,000 acres burned in wildfires. That’s a 65% decrease from the ten-year average of 180,000 acres burned per year.

Over 90% of the state fell into the “extreme” level - or worse - throughout the summer. That’s the highest measurement since the National Drought Monitor became the country’s standard measurement in 1999. Authors of the report point to Utahns cooperating with wildfire prevention efforts as part of why the fire impact was smaller last year.

“Compared especially to [2020], we saw a huge decrease in the amount of human-caused fires,” said Kayli Yardley, statewide fire prevention coordinator for the Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands. “Utahns have been awesome this last year, and I just want to encourage them to keep it up and use their fire sense and be smart.”

She said whereas in a normal year about 80% of wildfires are human caused, it was only 50% last year. That means about 900 fewer human-caused fires than in a normal year.

Yardley said one way people can help reduce fires is to make sure their cars are up to date. The Parleys Canyon Fire near Park City burned over 600 acres in August after a faulty catalytic converter on a car on Interstate 80 sent sparks into Parleys Canyon. Sparks from cars are a common way people cause fires in Utah.

While fewer total acres burned last year, there were still over 1,100 individual fires, which is a more normal yearly number and a harder one to bring down.

“We had more natural starts as well this year,” Yardley said. “It was like a 50/50 show, honestly. We had 570, give or take, human-caused fires, and there were like 581 natural starts. So, when you look at it that way, we can’t really control what’s happening on the natural side of things, but we can control those human-caused starts.”

According to the report, most fires burned fewer than 10 acres, and July was the most active month with 350 fires.

Yardley said her department will continue the 2021 “Fire Sense” education campaign to curb wildfires. The campaign highlighted fire risks like fireworks, campfires and cars.

Local and state governments make decisions on burn bans and other restrictions based on the snowpack and precipitation through the spring.

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