McEntee: Fire season is just getting started

This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As I write, my eyes are burning from the smoke/smog blanketing the Salt Lake Valley. At home, our lawn is so dry it's barely growing and green is giving in to yellow. The Wasatch Range is visible only in pale silhouette.

Despite some serious restrictions in Salt Lake and in other cities, I'm more than a little worried about July Fourth and the bunch that usually gathers near our house to light fireworks.

So is Gov. Gary Herbert, but under state law he can't order a statewide lockdown on firework displays, nor can he order a sweeping halt to target shooting, which has been blamed for about 20 wildfires this year.

Herbert said Monday evening that he has determined the state forester can issue no-shoot orders in places deemed to be at great risk for wildfire. It would not prevent gun owners from keeping and bearing their arms, he emphasized.

Late last week, the governor sent out a letter asking religious leaders to pray for residents and fire crews fighting fires.

"We are," he wrote, "in need of a little extra measure of help as we battle these conflagrations."

On Sunday, the Right Rev. Ray Waldon, dean of St. Mark's Cathedral, read the governor's letter to the congregation before the service and asked them for their prayers.

Hmmm. It's a tough-to-prove solution, but given the sheer number and extent of fires across Utah, it might just help and certainly couldn't hurt.

Still, it's been a dry year that isn't likely to get much wetter any time soon. Last month, only a whiff of rain fell in Salt Lake, and the forecast calls only for more dry and windy. Utah usually gets summer thunderstorms, but lightning is, of course, a common cause of wildfires.

There's another problem. The western United States is in a profound drought; much of Utah is labeled severe, and parts of our western and eastern territory and much of Colorado are considered extreme, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise is asking people to avoid driving on dry grass (the cause of the Herriman fire); don't use steel ammunition for target practice on dry, rocky terrain; and make sure campfires are drowned and cold before you leave.

As it happens, I won't be in Salt Lake on July Fourth — a last-minute and very important development is taking me to New York City. (More on that when I return.)

Traditionally, we'd park our lawn chairs on the sidewalk to look at the displays at Sugar House Park and on our street.

Given the obvious dangers, I'm sure my husband will be patrolling the property, keeping an eye out for the errant spark that could ignite our lawn or deck.

Maybe I'll send out a quiet little plea, too.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter, @pegmcentee.