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SOGGY SPRING DELAYS START OF FIRE SEASON

Utah's unusually damp spring has delayed the summer fire season, but the frequent rain boosts the growth of grasses that will dry out and become prime wildfire fuel later on.

The delay is welcome, State Forester Richard Klason said. "But there could be a problem this summer, depending on what the day-to-day weather is," he added.Utah's summer weather traditionally is hot and dry. Fires in dry grass would spread quickly to logs and other heavier fuels that are still feeling the effects of five years of drought.

"In spite of the fact that we're above normal (in precipitation) in some parts of the state, we're still looking at a four- to five-year drought. Heavy logs on the ground are still going to be dry," Klason said.

In a more typical year, heavy fallen logs 10 to 12 inches in diameter have a moisture content of 20 percent or more. But this year the moisture content in heavy logs is down to 10 to 12 percent within two weeks after being rained on, Forest Service spokesman John Chambers said.

Forest Service officials have also stressed the dangers created by dry grasses and weeds in the "urban forest interface" buffer between Wasatch Front subdivisions along the foothills and forest areas. The Forest Service cautions homeowners who live near the wilds to keep grasses and light brush clear of houses and other buildings to reduce the danger of a fire destroying a home.

"Suppression agencies are ready to respond, but in a fast-moving, wind-driven situation around these communities, houses are awfully close, and the chances of a fire reaching a house are pretty great regardless of how fast we respond," Chambers said.

Klason also urged people to be extremely careful with campfires, cigarettes and fireworks.