As firefighters quench flames, Utah continues to be at a high risk for fires. There are eight active large wildland fires in the state that has burned over 176,000 acres and are causing long term effects. These wildland fires have long-term effect. Dan Cather, UVU’s Utah Fire and Rescue Academy Wildland Coordinator, explained that this could be a start to a dry-fire cycle.
“We have not had a very eventful fire season for the last few years. We’ve had wet summers and wet springs,” Cather said. “Fire seasons go in cycles. We’re in the cycle of no moisture and a lot of fires. You will go three or four years that it will be wet, and you’ll go a few years without moisture.”
Cather has been a wildland firefighter since the 1990s and is the wildland coordinator of the UFRA. Cather has helpedwith wildfires in the area, including the Quail Fire, the Herriman Fire and the Dump Fire.
According to Cather, wildland fires have long-term effects. These effects include flood potentials, an increased chance of drought and a loss of minerals.
“The fire burns so hot that it can actually sterilize the ground. It removes the minerals and the essential elements out of that soil,” said Cather. “It takes a very long time for
an area to rejuvenate and be able to come back.”
When a wildfire happens, firefighters have cultural resource advisors come out and help devise a mitigation plan. They then decide what type of vegetation will help with the land. Cather explained that this is a long-term process.
Wildfires also have a deep impact on the firefighters physically and mentally. Cather said that there are stress-debriefing teams that come in and help, so firefighters can talk and vent to a third party.
“With your crew, you can do a lot of the venting together,” said Cather. “This is my family away from home. We get to know each other. We get to live together for two days. Then you’re off for four days, and you’re back.”
UVU offers a basic wildland class where agencies come in and hire students to work on their crews. Cather estimated that there are about 30 students currently doing summer-college-credit internships helping wildfire crews. He said the top three things students learn is fire behavior, self-discipline and hard work ethic.
“If they don’t have good self discipline or work ethic, they’ll get washed,” said Cather. He explained that wildland firefighters need to be physically fit and adaptable to work in extreme conditions.
“If you like camping, it’s an ideal job. If you don’t like getting dirty, then it’s not the ideal job,” Cather said. “You can go many days without a shower. You can go many days with moderated food. You’ll have water, but it will be lukewarm water. It’s not like you are going to be able to go to the 7/11 and get a slurpee. You’re going to be living on that mountain.”
Cather said that wildland firefighting is a good way for firefighters to earn money during a busy fire season. He explained that there are a lot of things that a person can benefit from firefighting and that it is one of the hardest jobs he has ever had.
“I think by going out and doing wildland fires, it’s allowed me to see who I am, realize hard work ethic, and be able to handle and manage extreme conditions,” said Cather. “There’s nothing better then being out in nature and being able to see the serenity of the nature. I’ve traveled all over the country and I’ve been in many parts of the country that most people would never see.”
By Emily Stephenson