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Herald editorial: Utah Valley joins the West in coping with wildfires

August 19, 2018 GMT

A hot, dry summer in Utah has yielded a number of large fires, including several near Utah Valley. While fires like the Coal Hollow Fire in Spanish Fork Canyon have made an impact throughout the region, we’re thankful for many things, including the dedicated fire crews working to contain the blaze.

Since it was sparked by lightning on Aug. 4, the Coal Hollow Fire has burned 46.3 square miles through Saturday evening. By comparison, the city of Provo is 47.2 square miles.

It’s hard to imagine such a large area touched by fire. While the Coal Hollow Fire is burning in a more remote location, it has touched hundreds of lives as families had to evacuate the area. It also threatens a major rail and highway link through the mountains.

Smoke from the fire has also drifted into the Utah Valley, leading to poor air quality on some days. This can be a minor inconvenience for some, but it could exacerbate health problems for sensitive groups and some have had to leave the area to get to better air.

While Coal Hollow Fire has already made an impact, we’re thankful for the hundreds of people working to keep it from getting worse. There were 704 people fighting the fire, as of Saturday. They’re working in difficult conditions with often inaccessible terrain, very dry fuel and the possibility of winds inflating the blaze. Because of these conditions, many firefighters on the ground are building indirect fire lines and working to reduce the fuel in the blaze’s path. In the sky, helicopters and planes are helping to tamp down the fire in critical areas.

We’re especially thankful that it appears no one has seriously gotten hurt fighting the Coal Hollow Fire. Fires across the United States have taken at least nine lives this summer, including that of Draper Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, who was killed while helping with the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California.

Given the firefighters’ hard work, it’s touching that many residents have asked how they could help. A fire official indicated that the current response team is required to be self-sufficient because they often work in remote areas with scant resources.

The official suggested donating to a local food bank or a homeless shelter.

We would also hope that residents consider working on long-term measures to help reduce the risk from future fires. Fires are inevitable, but steps could be taken to help make them less devastating, including exercising better care in building homes in fire-prone areas.

Residents should also contact their representatives to ensure adequate funding for forest fire research and prevention. In a year where fires have burned an area the size of Massachusetts, the Trump administration has proposed gutting fire research programs, according to Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

This spring, Congress created a wildfire disaster fund to help combat the fires, according to the Associated Press. While this will help, we encourage lawmakers and interested parties to fund fuel reduction projects.

In general, fires are a normal part of nature. Hopefully, we can take the right steps to minimize the impact these blazes have on human lives and property.