SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Interior is stepping up its efforts to ward off catastrophic wildfires in the wake of last summer’s unprecedented season in which much of the West burned, including an entire California town, and Utah mourned the loss of one of its firefighters killed in a Northern California blaze.
More than 1.2 million acres across 10 states is targeted for treatment, the agency announced, including high-risk areas in which communities have been threatened by wildfire or are at extreme risk.
“As stewards of one-fifth of the country’s public lands, primarily in the West, we know that our ability to be prepared for wildfires and reduce their severity is paramount to protecting communities and saving lives,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
“In collaboration with local, state and other federal partners, we are using everything in our arsenal to prepare for wildfires this year, treating more than 1 million acres.”
In Utah, more than 134,000 acres fall under the umbrella of treatment, with 75,000 acres treated so far.
The Bureau of Land Management in Utah is accomplishing fuel treatment projects on an increasing basis and is on pace to exceed acreage treated in past years. A project is being proposed for the Castle Valley area involving 1,400 acres of fuel breaks within a larger 7,500-acre planning area.
This year, the BLM began analyzing what it terms as a “significant” 11,000-mile stretch of proposed fuel breaks to combat wildfires in the Great Basin region. That area covers portions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah. As proposed, the project would serve as a better means to control wildfires within an area that spans 223 million acres.
The stepped up effort by the U.S. Department of Interior comes as the result of President Donald Trump’s executive order prioritizing active public lands management and a subsequent secretarial order Bernhardt issued that emphasizes the urgent need to reduce the risks of deadly and destructive wildfires.
Last year was one of the most active and tragic wildfire seasons in the United States, with more than 58,000 wildfires that scorched nearly 9 million acres. An estimated 26,000 structures were lost, more than double the previous annual record.
Utah saw a record-breaking wildfire season last year, with $150 million spent to quell more than 1,300 wildfires, of which close to 700 of them were human caused and could have been prevented.
The state also lost one of its own — Draper Fire Battalion Chief Matt Burchett, who died after a tree fell on him while fighting a wildfire north of San Francisco.