Six Things You Should Know about Living with Wildfire in Emigration Canyon

Fire is something most homeowners would rather not think about, and for those who live safely within city limits that’s mostly okay. If a fire starts in a city home or vacant lot, you can count on the fire department to arrive quickly and in strength. Canyon homeowners can’t assume they’ll always be that lucky. We need to know more about the fire risk that comes with our unique environment and take more responsibility for the safety of our homes and families. There’s a lot to learn, but here are some very good places to start.

1. Wildfire Is Your New Nextdoor Neighbor

Emigration Canyon is a textbook example of what firefighters call a wildland-urban interface environment. WUI for short. It’s a residential area built beyond the relatively controlled settings of city and suburb. Our community is defined by its varied topography, proximity to open lands, predominantly natural vegetation, challenging physical access, limited municipal infrastructure, and the difficulty of delivering what services are available. Most of us find these attributes irresistible, but each holds an element of increased risk, especially when something catches fire. Fire is native to this landscape; we and our homes are not.

2. Our Natural Surroundings Are Unnaturally Overgrown

Our homes are embedded in native vegetation that evolved in the presence of fire. Unfortunately, much of it is now in a thoroughly unnatural state following a century of vigorous fire suppression. From the streamside riparian zone up through sagebrush meadows and oak-maple thickets to the subalpine stands of aspen and fir, every acre that hasn’t been recently cleared by human hands is choked with dried fuel. Hillsides that once burned frequently and at low intensity are now primed for explosive, high-intensity wildfire.

3. Strong Wind x Steep Terrain = Fast Moving Fire

Fire moves with the wind, and it moves far faster uphill than it does across level ground. Wind and steep terrain make fire much more dangerous, and Emigration Canyon has plenty of both. Our topography makes the canyon a natural chimney, funneling and accelerating the winds that occur as weather fronts move across the state. Each summer these elements converge and compound when high temperatures and low atmospheric humidity combine with Red Flag winds and tinder-dry vegetation, providing ideal conditions for runaway fire growth and extremely rapid movement.

4. Climate Change Is the Ultimate Wildfire Wild Card

Fire risk changes seasonally in ways that are well understood, but climate change is disrupting these familiar patterns in ways that are far less predictable. Average winter snowpack is declining. Less runoff is reaching the canyon streams and aquifers. Fire seasons are starting earlier and ending later. Fires are becoming larger and more destructive, and the peak demand for firefighting resources is straining firehouse staffing and municipal budgets across the western U.S.

5. Our Fire Department Is First Rate, but Its Resources Are Finite

Our community is extraordinarily well-served by Unified Fire Authority, our local fire department. UFA has built a fire station in the canyon, equipped it to fight wildland fires, and staffed it with trained first responders. Moreover, UFA has developed mutual aid relationships with firefighting organizations across the state and region to provide the additional equipment and manpower needed for very large fires. Unfortunately, such fires are now occurring simultaneously across the West. Every season, new fires break out when every firefighter, truck, and plane is already committed.

6. Home Fire Survival is Every Homeowner’s Responsibility

The takeaway for canyon homeowners is this: we must prepare for an inevitable wildfire that will overwhelm the available firefighting resources. It’s only a matter of time. Our homes—every canyon home—should be prepared to survive the passage of a fire front without fire department assistance.

The good news is that survival is largely determined by specific attributes of a structure and its immediate surroundings that are very much within our control. If we carefully remove flammable materials from our home’s exteriors, prevent windborne embers from infiltrating them, and create a buffer zone of defensible space around them we can greatly increase the odds that when the smoke finally clears, our homes will still be standing.

Here’s What You Can Do Right Now

  1. Learn all you can about wildfire risk and home fire safety. Start with the links and downloads below!
  2. Schedule a home assessment with a local firefighter
  3. Eliminate flammable construction materials from your home’s exterior
  4. Eliminate access points for wind driven embers
  5. Remove leaves, pine needles and other flammable materials from your roof, gutters, and from within 5 feet of the home
  6. Create defensible space by appropriately reducing potential fuels within 30-foot and 100-foot zones around the home
  7. Take advantage of community activities that reduce the costs of fuel reduction, like our annual chipping and Firewise events
  8. Sign up for CodeRED, the township’s emergency communications service!
  9. Prepare for emergency evacuation by creating a family evacuation plan

Wildfire Safety Links and Resources

Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire

Dr. Jack Cohen, a respected expert on wildfire behavior and fire science research, explains how fireproofing your home can help protect it from wildfire. High intensity flame from a wildfire is less likely to ignite the home than “fire brands”—the hot embers that are spit from the intense flames and then deposited on flammable materials on or around the home. 

Wildfire: Prevent Home Ignition, Part One

Years of research, testing, and investigation have revealed insights into why some homes are completely destroyed by wildfire while others are not. These findings have also helped experts recognize that there are precautions that can be taken by homeowners to reduce the chance of losing their home in a wildfire.

Wildfire: Prevent Home Ignition, Part Two

This video examines various steps that can reduce the chances of home ignition during a wildfire, including:

  • Changing a wooden roof to a fire-resistant roof
  • Reducing vegetation around the home
  • Creating clearance of 100 feet between the home and forest area

How They Survived the Paradise Fire

Read how Jeff and Cathy Moore’s home survived the 2018 Camp fire that levelled most of Paradise, California due to the defensible space they had created around it.

How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfire

Short and sweet: Six steps you can take to reduce your home’s chances of igniting during a wildfire. Click on the photo to read or download.

Utah Firewise Living

Everything you need to know about managing wildfire risk in Utah’s wildland urban interface. Click the photo to read or download.

Firewise Landscaping: The Basics

A landscape that gives a building the best chance for surviving a wildfire is one that provides a defensible space. Fires need fuel, oxygen, and heat to burn. Defensible space landscapes are low in fuel, keeping the fire far enough away that firefighters have a chance to defend the building. This article from Utah State University Forestry Extension Service explains the basics of Firewise landscaping.

Firewise Landscaping: The Handbook

This 40-page booklet covers everything you’ll ever need to know about landscaping your home for optimal fire safety. Click on the photo to read or download.