- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s wildfire season has been relatively mild so far this year but state officials said Thursday that the state is primed to burn more than in 2015.

A wet winter and spring delivered needed moisture to forests in canyons and higher elevations, but it also caused more grass to grow in valleys, said Basil Newmerzhycky, a fire weather meteorologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

That leaves more grassland drying out and ready to burn this year than in last year’s relatively quiet fire season, where only about 16 square miles acres burned across the entire state.

That’s the fewest acres of wildfire in a decade during which Utah usually had about 295 square miles burn annually.

Newmerzhycky and other fire officials held a news conference Thursday to urge people to be aware of fire dangers this summer.

Chris Delaney, a fire management officer with the BLM in Utah, said most of the dozens of wildfires reported so far in 2016 were in the southwest corner of the state, where temperatures climb first.

But Delaney says a recent small fire in northern Utah’s Tooele County shows that parched grasslands are primed to burn throughout Utah.

Fire officials didn’t impose any burn bans last year because of the mild conditions, but Delaney said it’s too soon to say whether they’ll need to call for some this year.

The heaviest part of Utah’s fire season typically picks up around mid-June or early July and runs through mid-October or early November.

Newmerzhycky said late summer monsoons can bring some lightning but also needed moisture that squashes fires. He said it’s hard to predict exactly how devastating the wildfire season could be.

“It’s very tricky. All it takes, after being very hot and dry, is one or two days of a good lightning event with not too much rain and we could have multiple fires,” he said.

Utah state forester Brian Cottam said half of Utah’s fires are human-caused, which means they’re preventable and shouldn’t happen.

“We are prepared for this fire season, but beyond that, we need help,” Cottam said.

Cottam and other Utah wildfire officials are urging the public to ensure they’re taking preventative measures, such as creating space around homes by clearing vegetation that could burn and being cautious as they’re out recreating on public lands.

Human-caused fires includes everything from campfires that aren’t snuffed out to blazes sparked by target shooting or trailers dragged by chains across dry grass.

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