A prolonged drought and extremely dry weather conditions have not only prompted a statewide ban on open outdoor fires, they are also causing many Spanish Valley residents to have to cut back significantly on their water usage.
The fire restrictions also apply to Moab city and Grand County residents, said Moab Valley Fire Chief Corky Brewer. People who have charcoal grills or fire pits in their backyards may still use them, but they should use extreme caution, Brewer said. And no personal fireworks are allowed in the city or the county, even in the three days before and after the July 4 and July 24 holidays, he said. The annual professional fireworks display will still be allowed, Brewer said on Tuesday.
“The fire behavior is, to say the least, extreme,” Brewer told the Grand County Council on June 19. “We had some fires last week that [were burning like fires burn at the] end of July and August, that’s the way they were burning in the middle of June. And it’s kind of spooky.”
The fire ban includes exploding targets, and Brewer said the Grand County Sheriff’s Department “is going to take a pretty no-nonsense approach because of the fire danger.”
“I don’t think they are gong to get too hard core about sitting in the front yard with a sparkler, but it is still illegal.” Brewer said. “But if you’re seeing the aerial devices going out, especially in dry areas, they want you to call.”
The statewide restrictions, which went into effect June 14, were ordered by the Utah Interagency Fire Center. The restrictions prohibit open campfires on all state and federal lands within Utah, as well as all unincorporated private lands. They also include a ban on fireworks, as well as on cutting, welding, or grinding metal in areas of dry vegetation.
Smoking is also prohibited, except in enclosed vehicles or buildings, or in developed recreational sites, or while stopped in areas at least three feet in diameter and barren or cleared to the soil.
Violation of the fire restrictions is punishable as a class B misdemeanor, according to the Utah Interagency Fire Center, which comprises several agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In incorporated cities and towns, residents must follow any fire restrictions that local governments put in place.
Ken’s Lake levels
Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is part of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, said that many areas in the southern half of the state have gone as many as 35 days or more without any measurable precipitation.
In fact, many areas of southern Utah have gone more than two months without any precipitation of 0.1 inch or greater, Julander noted.
“Combine this with the current surface soil moisture data, and you can see why the fire danger is so high at this time,” Julander said in the NRCS’s June report.
According to the NCRS report, the soil moisture saturation levels for southeast Utah are at 43 percent, compared to 79 percent at this time last year.
“We haven’t had any precipitation to speak of here in Moab since around Christmastime,” said Mark Sovine, manager of the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency.
As of June 20, Ken’s Lake reservoir had 994 acre feet of water, which is only about 51 percent of normal, Sovine said.
Already, many water users are feeling the impact, with some already at or near their allotment limits.
Ken’s Lake irrigation water users will have their water shut off when they reach 60 percent of their normal allotment, Sovine said, referring to the 40 percent reduction that the GWSSA mandated earlier this spring. Paying extra for additional water is not an option, he said.
“There is no extra water to use,” he said.
A few irrigation customers have already reached their limits and have had their water shut off, Sovine said.
For more information about the statewide fire restrictions, visit the utahfireinfo.gov website.
Times-Independent reporters Charli Engelhorn and Laura Haley contributed to this report.
ByBy Jeff Richards