Heavy artillery is being put in place in the battle against the gypsy moth.

The Utah Department of Agriculture's quarantine of 4,500 homes in the Olympus Cove area began Monday.Under the threat of a possible $5,000 fine, residents of a 6,000-acre area in east Salt Lake County area are asked to have a signed inspection certificate before they move recreation vehicles or garden prunings. In addition, people moving into the area will need to register with the Department of Agriculture so gypsy moth traps will be set up in their yard.

If left unchecked, the moth could spread to destroy fruit, oak and other hardwood trees, as well as the valley's watershed.

"There's tremendous damage out there already, but most people aren't aware of it," said Van E. Burgess, director of plant industry for the agriculture department. "It kind of got a nice little head start, and we're just going to go clean it up."

The department plans to spray the area at least three times, starting in early May, when the gypsy moth caterpillar has hatched from its egg and is most vulnerable to pesticide. In its caterpillar stage, the pest does its most damageto trees.

Residents should inspect boats, campers, mobile homes, camping gear, trees, shrubs and prunings, timber, building material, outdoor furniture and garden equipment for a light tan egg mass about the size of a quarter. Burgess said each elongated egg mass can contain from 500 to 1,000 eggs, which were laid last summer and will hatch in a month.

If detected, the egg masses should be scraped off the surface and smashed. "We don't want those particular egg masses transferred out of the area," Burgess said.

"They kind of lay them in a hidden place, like under some bark or under a table. You have to turn it upside or something. You just can't walk by it and say it looks OK."

Area residents are also asked to monitor their garden cuttings. If transporting the prunings to the landfill, they should be carried in a covered container. Even shredded cuttings must be treated or taken to a landfill.

The department will post signs at the dozen entrances and exits to the quarantine area, and will perform some spot inspections. They have sent information about moth eradicating procedures to about 4,500 homes. For more information, call 538-7185 or 538-7123.