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Herbert calls for diligence, common sense in Utah's escalating fire season

FILE "“ Gov. Gary Herbert is interviewed at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 9, 2017. Herbert called on Utah residents Thursday to practice diligence and common sense in the wake of a fire season that is quickly escalating across the state. Herbert
FILE "“ Gov. Gary Herbert is interviewed at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 9, 2017. Herbert called on Utah residents Thursday to practice diligence and common sense in the wake of a fire season that is quickly escalating across the state. Herbert recently toured the Brian Head fire.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert urged Utahns to be vigilant, cautious and prepared in the wake of a quickly escalating fire season that may only get worse in the summer months ahead.

Herbert spoke of his concerns during Thursday's monthly KUED news conference, stressing that most Utah fires are human-caused and can therefore be avoided.

The governor toured the fire-ravaged Brian Head region in Iron County earlier this week. The wildfire, started June 17 by a homeowner using a torch to burn weeds, has grown to more than 11,000 acres, destroyed one home and damaged three cabins.

Brian Head has been evacuated, and as the fire spread toward Garfield County on Wednesday evening, evacuations were ordered for 400 homes in Horse Valley, Clear Creek and Beaver Dam.

Fire restrictions and fireworks prohibitions are in place throughout much of the state as fire officials work to tamp down risks of more wildfires erupting.

Herbert urged people to visit firewise.org to learn about what to do on red flag days that warn of risk of fire. The site includes tips for homeowners on how to create a "defensible" space to reduce the threat.

Also Thursday, the governor reiterated his position on the special election process to fill the vacancy in the 3rd Congressional District being created by Rep. Jason Chaffetz's June 30 departure.

Herbert and the Utah Legislature have been at political odds in a rift that includes accusations that the governor used threats to quash the release of an opinion by the attorney general's office.

"That's patently false," the governor said, adding later, "No threats. Just good policies and procedures."

Herbert said the release of an opinion by the attorney general's office would "conflict" that agency should there ever be a lawsuit over the matter.

"It is not about the opinion. It is, in fact, about attorney-client privilege," he said.

The two sides differ on how to get replacement candidates on the ballot.

Herbert said he is following the law by adhering to the regular election process, which includes signature gathering for a spot on the primary ballot, while the GOP-dominated Legislature wants political parties to pick their candidates.

In doing that, Herbert said the selection process for a replacement candidate would have been bad policy, disenfranchising the voice of 120,000 registered Republicans.

He also addressed the release of the 124-page draft health care proposal Thursday by U.S. Senate Republicans.

The governor had not yet read the proposal but said states need flexibility to implement health care reforms.

"The concern the states have is that whatever reforms come about we need to be treated equally," he said.

The Trump administration's willingness to foster a greater role for states to play in health care reform is encouraging, Herbert added.