Washington County fire chiefs cut short permitted burn season

A controlled burn spreads because of shifting winds in Ivins, Utah, April 22, 2018 | File photo courtesy of Santa Clara-Ivins Fire and Rescue, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Due to increasingly adverse conditions, municipal fire officials are cutting the controlled burn season short.

Fire chiefs from across Washington County met Thursday and agreed to end the controlled burn season two weeks early.

Instead of having until May 30, burn season will end Tuesday at midnight.

We feel we need to take action and close the burn window early,” Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Chief Dan Nelson said.

Among the factors the fire chiefs considered was how dry potential fire fuels have become with rising temperatures, Nelson said, plus the rapid pace at which recent brush fires have grown before being contained.

There are generally two controlled burn seasons in the county: a spring burn season that typically runs from March through May, and a fall season that runs from September through November.

Controlled burns are performed by people to dispose of weeds, leaves and limbs from small trees or brushes. There are also larger, agricultural burns that allow burning plants on farmland or along canals and irrigation ditches.

Firefighters from the St. George and Santa Clara-Ivins fire departments respond to a brush fire in the Sand Hollow Wash near Snow Canyon High School, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Permits are required to legally ignite a controlled burn and can be acquired through a person’s municipality of residence or the county if they reside in an unincorporated area.

Read more: Controlled burn season: How to obtain burn permit, keep fires safe

“We like people to be able to clean their yards,” Nelson said, “but we want them to do it in safe conditions.”

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker pointed to the fires his department responded to during the first half of the week as examples of how fast a brush fire can spread, especially when wind is involved.

Read more: High winds, critical fire weather forecast for areas south of Utah border

Monday a fire broke out in the Sand Hollow Wash, and on Tuesday a fire ignited by the Springtree Gardens condominiums just off 4350 East. In both cases, fire spread quickly through dried-out vegetation and was driven by the wind. Tuesday’s fire threatened nearby homes and caused temporary evacuations.

St. George firefighters respond to a brush fire near the Springtree Gardens Condominiums off 2450 East, St. George, Utah, May 8, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Read more: Authorities suspect children started brush fire in Sand Hollow WashBrush fire threatens homes, triggers evacuations

The St. George Fire Department responded to a third fire Wednesday, Stoker said, a controlled burn that got out of hand.

While there isn’t much in the way of wildland within St. George, he said, there are still places where a brush fire or controlled burn gone awry can cause a lot of damage.

While state law allows municipalities to shut down the controlled burn season within their borders, an early closure in unincorporated parts of Washington County will need to be approved at the state level as those are overseen by Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Mike Melton, area fire management officer for the division in southwest Utah, said he submitted a request to the state forester to end the burn season in the county following the fire chiefs’ meeting Thursday.

“The process is underway,” Melton said. He also echoed the fire chiefs’ collective sentiment that conditions are no longer safe for controlled burns:

Conditions are getting to the point that the controlled fires are running away from us.

St. George News reporter Joseph Witham contributed to this report.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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