The oft-cited figure used to describe the size of the Pack Creek Fire is 8,952 acres. However, only part of the vegetation in that area actually went up in flames.

Unscathed forest remains, but those trees and brush also stand to act as fuel should the fire flare back up later in the summer.

Wildland firefighters are finishing a roughly 50-mile control line around the Pack Creek Fire meant to limit outward growth of the blaze should it restart, but smoldering is expected to continue within the area until a large rain or snow puts it out completely.

Inside the control line, simmering root systems and other hidden hot spots are likely to create smoke throughout the summer, according to incident managers. Even in higher humidity, the flare-ups have persisted.

On July 1, a small team of wildfire prevention specialists made a brief drive up Gold Basin Road with windshield wipers on and air conditioning off. The temperature on the mountain was around 55º Fahrenheit at high noon. The valley below was 30º warmer.

Even with the cool weather and drizzles, small blazes on either side of the road popped up as the clouds moved out to let in the sun. Each burned at the roots of tall trees, obscured by sprigs of lush saplings and meadows of flowers and grass.

Conversely, the totally charred areas, which were seemingly scarcer than the greenery in that part of the woods, showed signs of regrowth. From the blackened soil, amid towering stalks of charcoal, sprouts poked out of the earth.

Fires are a natural part of the lifecycle of forests. Some species of tree have even evolved to only release their seed after a fire. But wildfires also threaten the safety of humans who have built homes and recreation areas in these same forests.

Surprises like the Pack Creek Fire can destroy lives and treasured camping areas and create hazards that outlast the fire itself. Without pre-established control lines, and spurred on by drought, wildfires like can and do quickly grow into larger threats.

Unfortunately, those surprises have become more common, and in Utah, roughly 70% are human-caused, according to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

The essential message from the state, in collaboration with multiple federal departments including the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, is that wildfire prevention starts with fire sense — knowing and avoiding the behaviors that cause wildfires. See related story for details.

How to stop the 70% of human-caused wildfires

In a typical year, roughly 70% of Utah’s wildfires are human-caused. In 2020, the figure shot up to 78% as the COVID-19 pandemic forced recreation outdoors.

The State of Utah and federal agencies estimate that 28% of Utah’s human-caused wildfires could be stopped with proper campfire control. A fire site that isn’t cool to the touch after dousing is liable to restart if left unattended. Campfires are currently illegal in most of Utah anyway.

Another 24% of wildfires are attributable to vehicles. Dragging chains, parking on dry grass, and missing spark arrestors all threaten to start a blaze.

Unsafe firearm usage and fireworks have also recently been sources of human-caused wildfires in Utah. They combine to account for another 10% of Utah’s human-caused wildfires.

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