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Foresters fearful of a fiery 4th

Dry, hot conditions spark warnings to holiday revelers

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PROVO — Every day at the Uinta National Forest offices, technicians run a computer model of conditions to see what a wildland fire would do in Utah County.

"We feed in the fuels available, the temperatures, the wind speed, the humidity, everything we have," said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta National Forest.

"Since two weeks ago, we have been running way above historic high levels for fire," Clark said. "If we don't get sustained amounts of moisture, with these high temperatures and winds, we're in real trouble."

Forest officials are so concerned they hired 30 new firefighters a month earlier than usual and have asked for a helicopter to be assigned to the area.

Clark said the early fires — such as the one started by lightning in Kamas on May 29 at 8,000 feet — are behaving more like the hotter, fast-burning fires that typically rage in August at higher elevations.

"It's dry enough now at the lower elevations that we really need people to be careful," she said.

With the Fourth of July holiday on a weekday, Clark said there's concern that people will be celebrating, lighting campfires and setting off fireworks from weekend to weekend during a time when temperatures are expected to hit the mid-90s.

That means more camping, more picnics, more burning cigarettes and more hazard for tinder-dry forests.

Plus, too many campers leave burning fires, and some even bring fireworks into the forests, Clark said. "We're always so surprised that people do that. What are they thinking?"

Another fear factor involves the number of homes that have been built up high into the foothills since last summer, presenting major challenges for fire prevention and suppression.

"There's encroachment into every single ecosystem," Clark said. "We just watch that happen and say, 'Oh, my!' "

Residents are urged to use extra caution and wisdom when it comes to purchasing and lighting fireworks, she said.

"Also, be extra careful in the campgrounds. The potential for wildfire is there," she said.

E-MAIL: haddoc@desnews.com