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Hot spots require caution

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PROVO — Utah County residents should take fire prevention efforts seriously, no matter where they are. But fire experts say there are several hot spots around the county that require extra precaution.

The entire urban interface of the Wasatch Front, where homes come into contact with completely natural areas, is considered a hot spot, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dave Palazzolo said. Not only are there human safety issues, but humans often are the cause of danger.

"The chance for a human-caused fire, whether accidental or intentional, is higher," he said. "Human-caused fires, they're still pretty major."

Lake Mountain, in the Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain area, and West Mountain, in south Utah County, are both considered fire risks, Bureau of Land Management fire education and mitigation specialist Teresa Rigby said.

"We get a lot of people that like to go out to those areas, so we get a high number of human fires," she said. "We also get a number of lightning fires."

The fires started by humans are not always from cigarettes, contrary to popular belief, Rigby said. Those areas that have particularly dry vegetation can be ignited in a number of ways.

People driving ATVs, lighting camp fires, a car driving through or a variety of other things can act as a firestarter, she said. One place of concern is Five Mile Pass, a camping area where fun-seekers spend a fair amount of time.

"We actually found an abandoned campfire out there day before yesterday," Rigby said. It did not spread, because of the storm conditions of the last few days.

The No. 1 concern when looking at areas of high fire risk is human safety, Palazzolo said. After that, the Forest Service looks at property values, natural resources and area wildlife habitat.

The Forest Service has $1.7 million earmarked for pre-suppression efforts, which are ways to prevent fires from wreaking havoc this year, he said. Several cities have new fire engines and squads and one has a helicopter crew to fight the inevitable burns.

"Technically, its pre-suppression, but what it really is, is preparedness," Palazzolo said. "It's likely that there will be a fire, and that's a preparedness level."

The best way for local residents to protect their homes from fires is cutting back vegetation. Fire safety tips can be found at the Web site www.firewise.org, Palazzolo said. The site is designed to help homeowners know what to do in case of fire.

"Fire is a very natural part of the ecosystem," Palazzolo said. "A lot of vegetation is fire dependent. It needs fire to live. It always has been there, it's always going to be there, but it doesn't mean it has to take us by surprise every time."

The BLM also participates in fire prevention by educating the public of the dangers they face when spending time in high-risk outdoor areas, Rigby said. There are always prevention patrols and the bureau is increasing the number of signs to remind people to be careful in certain areas. The BLM is also involved in several projects around Utah County that will help protect communities by preventing fires before they start, she said.

"We've got to learn to live with fire in some ways, but we don't need to add to the problem," Rigby said.

E-mail: utahcounty@desnews.com