To help avoid a repeat of the forest fire that ravaged hillsides around the mountain community of Midway last summer, state foresters are working with homeowners and volunteer groups to clean up the area.
The August blaze claimed the lives of two firefighters, destroyed 18 mountain homes and scorched 3,000 acres of state park and private lands in the Heber Valley.Since that time, workers have been clearing brush and improving the accessibility of roads to create "defendable space" homes.
"It's an ongoing project. We're trying to rehabilitate the area," said Dick Klason, state forester from the Division of State Lands and Forestry.
About 350 volunteers from the LDS West Jordan Mountain View Stake joined foresters Friday as part of a youth conference service project to clean out the area. Other efforts included those by Tree Utah, a volunteer group that helped plant nearly 9,000 shrubs last fall.
Some area residents have also taken steps to improve their homes, though overall the foresters have had limited cooperation, said Gary Cornell, division fire management specialist. Instead of installing fire resistant materials, for example, some owners are replacing scorched roofs with the same type of wooden shingles that burned away.
"It gets kind of discouraging," Cornell said.
Those homeowners who do not clear their homes may be bringing themselves trouble, said Dale Jablonski, also a state forester. "Unless they create defendable space, we won't even try to save it."
Despite spring rains, foresters warn that the threat to life and property from wildland fires in Utah is very high this summer. Thick vegetation could fuel dangerous wildland fires.
Some mountain home communities can become death traps, Jablonski said, calling them "coffins waiting to be filled."
He also said that clearing trees and brush away from homes is not just for fire prevention - it also helps control wood diseases by distancing infected trees from homes.
In addition to clearing away flammable shrubs, foresters encourage homeowners to treat their homes with fire-resistant chemicals and install double or triple paned windows. The intense heat of a forest fire can blow single glass windows apart and allow the flames to enter the home.
Madeline Stober of Salt Lake City said the fire came within 10 feet of her parents' home but changed direction and spared the structure. Neighboring cabins were not so fortunate. Fifty feet away, a cracked and blackened chimney rising from a foundation filled with the rusting remnants of appliances marks what was once a home.
Stober was grateful for the efforts of volunteers like the West Jordan youth group. "I think it's wonderful that they're putting in that kind of time and service, because if (a fire) ever happens again, there might not be another miracle."