Rodney M Bliss

The State Is On Fire

No, I dont live in California, although its on fire too. It’s fire season in the West. Fires in Utah and surrounding states have a weird cycle. You would think a good water year would mean fewer fires.

That’s not always the case. A good water year means lots of snow pack and a nice steady runoff in the Spring. If it melts too quickly we get flash floods and our resevoirs cannot handle all of it. And a mild Spring with good snow pack means lots of growth in the Spring.

Deserts are habitats of opportunity. When there’s plenty of water, things grow. When there’s not, things go dormant. We have several species of trees, for example that have the ability to “shut off” part of their limbs in dry weather. They sacrifice part of their growth to save the rest of it. The oldest tree in the world is in Southern Utah. It’s a Bristlecone Pine, one of the species that can control the flow of moisture to its limbs.

So, with a wet Spring, the desert blooms. The flowers grow. The trees grow. And the grasses grow like crazy. And that’s the problem.

Those grasses eventually dry out in the Fall. Even in a wet Fall, the grasses will dry out. It’s part of the natural cycle. If we had a good Spring, the grasses are extra thick and tall. Perfect for fires.

On the other hand, if we have a bad water year, the state dries out. Becomes parched even. And then, no matter how tall the grass is, it’s going to burn.

This has been a bad water year. The winter saw less than normal snowfall and it’s been weeks of 90-100 degree temperatures without rain.

There are four fires burning within an hour of my house. Most were started by lightening. We don’t have too many man made fires in Utah. It still happens, but honestly, not a lot of people want to go camping in the desert when it’s 100 degrees out.

California, of course, is having a worse time than Utah. There are fire crews from Utah working fires in California. I’m not really sure how that works since we have fires burning here too, but I’m sure the guys who do it for a living have it figured out as to who goes where.

Tragically, yesterday we lost one of our firefighters. Matthew Burchett is from Draper, Utah. He, and his crew were in California fighting their fires when a tree fell on them. Several firefighters were injuried and Burchett lost his life. He leaves behind a wife and a small child.

The monsoon rains will start in September. If it’s a good year, the ski resorts will be open by Thanksgiving. Fire and water coexist in an uneasy alliance here in the Rocky Mountains. Even if it means an increased chance for fires next fall, we always pray for rain and snow.

We do live in a desert, after all.

RIP Matthew Burchett. Prayers for your family and prayers for the safety of all the men and women fighting the fires.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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