2 Utah communities designated 'firewise'

Emigration Canyon and Sundance cited for easing dangers
By Joe Bauman
Deseret News staff writer

As the summer wildfire potential continues to build, 22,000 residential communities in the United States have been identified as lying in wildfire danger zones.
And of those 22,000, only 12 — including two in Utah — have been commended by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group as being "firewise" in taking proactive steps to mitigate the wildfire danger to their neighborhoods.
Salt Lake County's Emigration Canyon and Utah County's Sundance have earned the "firewise" designation through their efforts in forming a fire mitigation plan, implementing it and educating residents about it, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Firewise Communities/USA Web site.
Residents of both Utah communities are acutely conscious of fire danger because of wildfires in recent decades. In 1988, a blaze in Emigration Canyon scorched 5,600 acres, forced evacuations, threatened homes and filled Salt Lake Valley with smoke. Three years ago, a huge wildfire near Timpanogos Cave forced closure of U-92 from Alpine to the Sundance vicinity.
The big fire "really scared people," said Kelly Petersen, manager of Ruth's Diner, a popular eatery in Emigration Canyon. "It was like being in a war zone, with all the smoke and ash in the air and an orange glow, and the big water planes flying low."
With Utah's drought continuing, she said, fire danger is especially frightening. So Emigration Canyon residents are making sure their homes and businesses are protected.
Fire awareness meetings are held in the canyon "all the time," she said. "They have them all summer long." A big sign near the canyon mouth announces the location and time of the next meeting.
At Ruth's Diner, scrub oak and other potential tinder vegetation has been removed. "It's been cut back about 30 yards away from all the buildings," she said.
That potential fuel was replaced with wildflowers, Petersen said.
The Firewise Communities effort promotes reducing dangers to homes through projects like clearing flammable material from around homes, building "fuel breaks" like driveways and gravel walkways, and keeping trees and shrubs pruned.
In addition to the two sites in Utah, other states with communities given the "firewise" designation include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico and Washington.
Sundance, in the north fork of Provo Canyon east of Provo, is a community of 250 homes surrounded by forests, says the Firewise group.
Sundance has been acutely aware of fire danger for several years, the group says. In 1998, a daylong fire forum was held at Sundance Resort to discuss the issue. Participants included experts from fire agencies, homeowners, resort management and staff members from the nearby Brigham Young University Family Camp.
An advisory council was formed to implement fire mitigation activities. "Fuels modification and development of a written evacuation plan were the primary focus for 2002 activities," notes Firewise.
"Sundance currently sponsors spring and fall Chipper/Clean Out Days and has worked with the state of Utah to clear fuels along primary evacuation roads," it adds.
An early-warning phone tree was designed to help spread the word in case of a fire. The community also purchased and installed emergency sirens, Firewise says, and it holds mock evacuation drills.
Also, through education by the advisory council, 15 shake/shingle roofs on homes built in the 1970s — before the advent of fire codes requiring fire-resistant roofing materials — have been replaced, according to Firewise.
In the Emigration Canyon area, interests there "formed a fire committee that includes residents in the canyon as well as representatives from the county, city, state and federal fire agencies, the township planning board, the local water board, and the county planning office," says Firewise.
The canyon held its first fire day on June 22, 2002, which featured fire personnel who demonstrated their equipment, booths from building supply companies and local nurseries, and local agency experts to answer questions about wildfires in Emigration Canyon.
"The committee intends to support an annual fire day, specific fuel reduction activities," and other measures, says Firewise Communities/USA.
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group is a consortium of agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior, the National Association of State Foresters, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association.
For more information on the Firewise Communities/USA program, go to www.firewise.org.