A Smokey Bear sign at the entrance to Castle Valley alerts residents and visitors of the fire danger in the area. Officials say hazardous conditions will likely force fire restrictions throughout southeastern Utah to remain in place through mid-September. [Photo by Lindsey Bartosh/ Moab Sun News]

Rising temperatures and dry conditions have caused southeastern Utah interagency fire managers for the State of Utah, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the National Park Service (NPS) to issue several fire restrictions for Grand County. The restrictions were placed into effect on July 11.

Grand County Fire Warden Mark Marcum presented information to members of the Grand County Council about the fire restrictions at the council’s July 15 meeting. Fire restriction orders were released simultaneously from the State of Utah, BLM, and NPS.

“The state restrictions apply to all unincorporated areas of the county and, of course, the other agencies’ restrictions apply to the areas managed by them,” Grand County Council member Elizabeth Tubbs said.

BLM Canyon Country District manager Lance Porter said each agency has slightly different restrictions in place for their managed areas, so it is important to know the area’s fire restriction before heading out into public lands. Porter said the different agencies decided to put fire restrictions in place.

“Current and forecasted weather conditions coupled with extremely dry conditions and heavy loading of vegetation throughout (southeastern) Utah have created hazardous fire conditions,” he said.

Shannan Marcak, the Needles District interpreter for Canyonlands National Park, said when evaluating whether fire restrictions are needed, fire managers look at weather, current fire activity, and also local preparedness levels.

“Currently, the local fire danger level is moderate in higher elevations, to high in lower elevations, and the local preparedness level is three,” Marcak said.

Fire restrictions for the BLM include no campfire except in permanent metal- or cement-constructed fire pits, no operation of internal or external combustion engines without a properly installed spark-arresting device, and no cutting, welding, or grinding work near vegetation. Charcoal burning will still be allowed in developed campgrounds or picnic areas. Smoking is allowed in areas free of vegetation with at least a 10-by-10-foot clearing.

Porter said fireworks are not permitted on public lands. Violation of fire restrictions on BLM land can be punishable with $1,000 fine and also rehabilitation costs if damage occurs from an individual’s actions.

For NPS land, open fires are also prohibited unless in permanent pits at developed campgrounds, and smoking is prohibited unless in a vehicle or in a developed area, such as a parking lot, with clearance of at least three feet. Petroleum-fueled stoves are still permitted for use.

Fireworks are prohibited in all national park areas.

Marcak said the NPS restrictions cover Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.

Finally, the State of Utah and Department of Natural Resources restrictions, which were released to the public by division director and state forester Brian Cottam, were similar to NPS restrictions. Open fires, unless in a permanent fire pit, and smoking, unless with three-foot clearance, are prohibited. The restrictions cover all unincorporated and state lands in Grand, Carbon, Emery, and San Juan counties.

Individuals found in violation of fire restrictions on state land are subject to a class B misdemeanor.

The town of Castle Valley also has fire restrictions in place, similar to the ones released by the BLM. Castle Valley Fire Chief Ron Drake said the fire danger is rated as “very high” in the valley because of dry conditions.

“Castle Valley’s fire restrictions go into effect when the fire danger reaches ‘high’ or above,” he said. “There is a Smokey Bear sign at the entrance to the valley with the fire danger posted under the sign. Currently, the fire danger is listed as ‘very high’ and bordering on extreme. The fire restrictions are similar to those issued by the BLM and other agencies, no open fires, no fireworks, no welding or grinding, etc.”

Fireworks are not allowed in Castle Valley, and Drake said it has been several years since he has seen anyone lighting them off in the valley.

“I have not witnessed anyone using fireworks around the holidays in Castle Valley for a long time,” he said. “I think people understand the danger of fireworks in an urban and interface area such as ours.”

Drake said Castle Valley is a high fire-hazard environment.

“This area possesses all the ingredients necessary to support large, intense and uncontrollable wildfires,” he said. “We try to educate the residents about pre-fire activities such as a green or well-maintained landscape, reduction of wildland vegetation around the perimeter of the property, keeping good access to their homes, etc.”

The restrictions will have an impact on fireworks used for Pioneer Day celebrations on Thursday, July 24. Fireworks are permitted in Utah between July 21 and July 27, as the state allows fireworks three days before and after Pioneer Day and Independence Day. The fire restrictions will prohibit fireworks on all public lands around Grand County. Phillip Mosher, assistant fire chief with the Moab Fire Department, said in an attempt to still allow some fireworks, the City of Moab will allow fireworks within city limits during the holiday.

“Fireworks will still be permitted in the city limits, excluding 150 feet on both sides of the creek beds, so this still allows the public a place to light off fireworks,” Mosher said. “We feel that if they do not have a place to light the fireworks, they will try to go out in the hills and light them anyway so we would like to have it centralized and have better access to them if a problem occurs.”

During the Independence Day holiday, Moab Fire Department fire fighters responded to eight incidents involving fireworks. Mosher said it is important to use caution with fireworks.

“All (the fires) except the professional fireworks were caused from mistakes on the use of fireworks and fueled by the winds that we had,” Mosher said. “People should always read the warnings on the package before lighting and use as directed.”

Moab resident William Love, who lives in the Spanish Valley area, has been concerned about firework use in the Moab area. He said dry conditions over the past couple years have caused a number of fires in Spanish Valley.

“The area where I live, south of the Moab golf course, has had three brush fires in the last 12 years,” he said. “The last was just before the 4th of July, 2014. The golf course fire several years ago had 40-foot flames and the latest had 20-foot flames. The area is extremely dry,” he said.

The fire restrictions will remain in place until area conditions improve. Mosher said conditions will likely remain the same until at least mid-September. Up-to-date information about fire restriction orders for the entire state of Utah can be found at www.utahfireinfo.gov.

“All (the fires) except the professional fireworks were caused from mistakes on the use of fireworks and fueled by the winds that we had. People should always read the warnings on the package before lighting and use as directed.”

Dry conditions likely to stay through mid-September