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Deadwood, Lack Of Enforcement Contribute To Wildfire Dangers

Lynn Ware Peek.

It’s no surprise the Summit Cunty Council is focused on wildfire prevention this summer given the fires raging in the western United States, Utah and this week in Tollgate Canyon.

Council member Roger Armstrong said they need to keep educating neighborhood associations about measure like defensible space around homes. The Park City Fire Department offers a chipping program to help clear out the wood.

Armstrong said some associations have taken the bull by the horns.

“HOA’s are starting to have meetings with their residents, starting to establish policies. I think everybody’s got to understand that as our climate continues to get warmer and as we start to see drier summers like we are this year—throughout the west, not just in Utah or Summit County—we’ve got to take proactive measure to keep ourselves safe.” Armstrong continued, “When you look at what happened in Redding, and the descriptions of that. When you look at other fires we’ve seen, Santa Barbara, places that have just been destroyed by fire. It’s getting to be more of problem than what I think we faced in the past.”

The difficulty is applying enforcement for the regulations in the Wildland Urban Interface zones.

“Whether it’s enforcement of building codes, enforcement of lighting standards, enforcement of leash laws or anything else we just don’t have enough bodies to do it.” Armstrong explained, “We had a request from a resident in Summit Park yesterday to address the issues of engine breaks—it comes up periodically—on Interstate 80 coming down the hill. We have the capacity to do it, we have an ordinance to do it, but it means taking a sheriff’s deputy and assigning them to enforcement. The sheriff’s office has to balance their enforcement ability, their manpower.”

A related issue is how to clear out the deadwood in the national forests, which help to fuel fires. Armstrong said that council members Glenn Wright and Kim Carson have been in discussions on the issue.

“I think it’s going to be a multi-step process to try and get in and it’s an expense process. The state and the feds have at various times had programs that allow lumber companies to go in and harvest some of that stuff.” Armstrong continued, “We had these conversations four or five years ago as it relates to the north slope near Wyoming. A lot of deadfall up there and the concern is that in a particularly hot fire it winds up scorching the ground so badly that the runoff is impossible. The water supply ends up being profoundly affected.”

The problem, he said, is the cost of a solution.

“If you’re harvesting dead trees and you’re try and turn it into lumber or something else, there’s not a lot of value in it. Harvesting live trees has a lot of value. Completely dead trees have far least value, and something in-between does have value. It’s a matter of finding the means to actually make it happen.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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