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Summit Park and Pinebrook wildfire prevention projects get top rating from state

A scene from the Parleys Canyon Fire, August 15, 2021
Park City Photography LLC
A scene from the Parleys Canyon Fire, August 15, 2021

After evacuations for the Parleys Canyon Fire, a wave of Summit Park homeowners signed up to have their property assessed for wildfire risk. Millions of dollars in grants are now funding work there and across Summit County.

Summit County recently announced that seven projects aimed at reducing wildfire risk and improving watershed health will receive $4.6 million in state funding.

The grants include hundreds of thousands of dollars to reduce fuels in Pinebrook and Summit Park — two neighborhoods ordered to evacuate last August during the Parleys Canyon Fire.

Mike Quinones is the wildland fire and safety coordinator for the Summit Park homeowners association. He said nearly all of the homeowners in the mountainous and remote neighborhood have had their property assessed for wildfire risk, a process that accelerated after last year’s fire.

“You know what, I've never seen so much interest in doing this kind of work until this summer,” Quinones said.

The assessments determine a home’s vulnerabilities, including what trees and shrubs need to be cleared to create what's called defensible space. Clearing that brush can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Quinones said around 75 homes were already signed up to receive treatment this year before they had to cap the program.

“Because we're running out of money. So the extra cash that came in for next year is going to be also utilized as well,” he said.

That extra cash is $105,000 from the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative, which Quinones said would allow the fire mitigation work in Summit Park to continue through the summer. The Pinebrook HOA also received funding from the restoration initiative — about $265,000.

Summit County Public Lands Manager Jessica Kirby said the projects in Pinebrook will focus on common spaces in addition to areas around homes. Kirby said those projects scored a No. 1 ranking during the application process. She said the Sun Peak and Tollgate Canyon neighborhoods are expecting to receive funding for fire mitigation work later this year.

The bulk of this round of funding for projects in Summit County, $3.2 million, is for fuel reduction on public lands.

Kirby said Summit County is an integral part of what she called “forest to faucet,” saying if there isn’t a forest, there isn’t water coming out of a faucet. The headwaters of four major rivers that provide drinking water to the Wasatch Front are all inside the Summit County boundaries.

“We have a lot of responsibility at Summit County," Kirby said. "You know, they all start at the top of the Uintas and, you know, it's a high priority of our council to manage and take care of these watersheds. I mean, there's 1.2 million people just in Utah that are depending on us.”

Kirby worked for years managing land for the Snyderville Basin Recreation District. That work included fire mitigation projects near Summit Park that were directly in the path of the Parleys Canyon Fire.

The goal of the work isn’t to prevent wildfires, Kirby said, but to make them less severe and prevent the catastrophic consequences that come from climate change-fueled megafires.

“Fire’s not a bad thing. We want fire, you know, we need it," Kirby said. "The environment needs fire — the trees and the area needs fire. But the intensity that we're getting right now is what we're trying to mitigate. So that we don't have those huge watershed-scale impacts where you choke the entire river for the next 10 years with sediment that's coming off of a completely scarred landscape.”

On Wednesday, a state fire agency said there have been 163 wildfires already this year, 40% fewer than the average number for the past two years. The vast majority of those fires have been human-caused.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.