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DAMAGE FROM FIRES COULD GO WILD

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Unless this summer gets a lot more moist, Utah County could set a dubious record for acreage damaged by wildfires.

Utah County Fire Marshal Tom Wroe said county firefighters have already responded to seven dozen fires since February, and fire danger is escalating.Already last week, firefighting agencies responded to a wind-caused blaze near explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel Inc., formerly Ireco, a "suspicious" fire near Alpine Cove and a blaze that almost destroyed a sawmill in Spanish Fork Canyon.

"This is unprecedented," Wroe said. "I've been here seven years and I can't ever remember a year as bad as this."

Because of the relatively dry spring and early summer, grass, brush and trees are "worse than kiln-dried, they're like popcorn," he said. In fact, fire officials have termed much of Utah County plant life as "flash fuel," meaning it catches fire much faster than usual.

Brisk, warm and dry winds have fanned many of the fires and spread them more quickly than in wetter years.

"We're looking at a lot of damage and a lot of cost for fighting these fires unless something drastic happens," Wroe said.

For example, the Alpine Cove fire, which was held to only one acre by the Alpine Fire Department Wednesday night, could have spread to nearby homes quickly if Utah County dispatchers had not been notified early.

And the Dyno Nobel fire, which burned approximately 100 acres of brush just west of Utah Lake, could have been explosive if Utah County firefighters hadn't been aided by specialists from the company and if the company hadn't already taken the precautions of creating firebreaks, which are required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Owners of the sawmill damaged in the two-day fire near White River in Spanish Fork Canyon, which began Monday night, weren't so lucky, though. Wroe estimated there may be as much as $250,000 damage there, despite the best efforts of the county's fire crews and Uinta National Forest.

"We're in for an interesting year, that's for sure," he said. "These are extreme fire conditions. Even with the cooler temperatures we'll start drying out again soon, so it's critical that people be careful."