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<br />by NFPA's Lauren Backstrom
Richard Buehler, director of the Utah Division of Forestry, spoke at this morning's opening session of NFPA's Backyards & Beyond conference. Mr. Buehler started his career in 1973 and since that time has seen many changes in wildfire frequency, intensity and severity throughout his state. Utah itself has a wide range of elevation (from 2,000 - 14,000ft) as well as a wide variety of fuel sources. To this end, Richard and the Division of Forestry work very hard to educate the population, train the fire service, and reduce the risk to life and property by creating defensible space across the state.
With 500-600 wildfires per year when Mr. Buehler first began his career, to over 1,400 just last year alone, there is an important need to make sure the appropriate programs and resources are in place. The Grteat Basin Engine Academy offers courses in Utah to train the fire service on fighting and managing wildfire. Because of these academy's offerings, 98% of the wildfires each year and contained through the initial attack. In addition, a fuel break is being created along a large stretch of terrain that will help to protect a necessary watershed as well as several of the state's ski resorts.
Mr. Buehler said that new legislation in Utah that requires the inclusion of WUI codes in construction, that the right equipment be owned by the fire service, and that certain human behaviors that have led to many wildfires in the area be restricted. Human-caused wildfire in the state made up about 50% of the fires last year, and this year make up only about 30%, so it is clear that these efforts have had an enormous impact.
NFPA appreciates the work that the Utah Division of Forestry has done and hope they can be an example to other states and communities.