The hills are "tinder dry" and cities and counties throughout the state should consider an outright ban of all private fireworks, Gov. Mike Leavitt said on two occasions Thursday.
Standing near the mouth of Farmington Canyon, Leavitt stopped short of identifying areas that should impose restrictions before next week's July 4 holiday. "There is no community that is exempt from danger."With Farmington's ritzy Farmington Hills Estates subdivision in the background, he asked communities to evaluate fire hazards and impose appropriate restrictions.
In his monthly televised press conference earlier Thursday, Leavitt said many local governments already have exhausted their annual firefighting budgets. "This is a very serious problem."
The problem comes in areas like Farmington's Compton Bench, where homes are built up on the hillside among pines, oaks and shrubs that dry out and catch fire. "All it takes is literally a spark to set forth a furor more than anything you can imagine," he said at a news conference called to update the public about Utah's fire situation.
More than 1,500 firefighters are battling blazes around the state. (See story and map on B2.) Six large fires - which are called project fires when more than 300 firefighters are assigned to a single blaze - have burned 70,000 acres in recent days. Overnight, four new fires started in the Dixie National Forest, Leavitt said.
"We are asking citizens for their help," Leavitt said.
As governor, he doesn't have the power to ban fireworks, but said there are certain cities that must do something. "I'm asking those communities to take that action."
Late Wednesday, Leavitt asked Utah National Guard volunteers to support firefighting efforts. A National Guard spokeswoman said Thursday a busload of volunteers traveled to the Spanish Fork Armory, where they will support efforts to fight the Pole Creek Fire near Beaver.
The unit has donated equipment - buses, bulldozers and trucks - but no volunteers have been called in for direct firefighting duties. One or two Apache helicopters also are being used to drop water on fire spots.
Conditions all over the state make fire officials nervous.
"It's real sweaty up here," Farmington Fire Chief Larry Gregory said after Leavitt's comments. "We're sitting on pins and needles. If we get something started, we're going to be scrambling."
Farmington Mayor Greg Bell said he'd think about fireworks restrictions, but that fireworks aren't really a hazard in his city. A bullet started one of the big fires, a train spark started another.
"The ones that are going to be a problem are illegal anyway, more so than the ones you do with your kids in a supervised setting."
Other communities reacted quickly to Leavitt's request.
Utah County Fire Marshal Tom Wroe issued restrictions that are effective July 1 for unincorporated areas.
Under the order, there are to be no open fires, except campfires within appropriate facilities provided. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, is banned - and discharging fireworks, tracer ammunition or pyro-tech-nic devises is not allowed.
"The valuable natural resources, watershed, structures and other valuable land improvements coupled with the very low fuel moisture of the vegetation, have caused the need for extraordinary measures," Wroe said in a statement.
The state forester, Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National Forest officials have issued similar orders. Salt Lake County has banned fireworks along its east and west foothills.
Extreme conditions require extreme measures, Leavitt said, although cities will still hold their formal fireworks shows.
"I love fireworks, I'm a big fireworks guy and I think there will always be a place for municipal fireworks, but this is a very serious situation," Leavitt said. "We're in for a long hot summer."