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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

As heat waves hit much of Mountain West, officials warn of high wildfire risk

The West has faced years of devastating drought, increasingly destructive wildfires and widespread exposure to toxic smoke.
David McNew
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The West has faced years of devastating drought, increasingly destructive wildfires and widespread exposure to toxic smoke.

Much of the West saw above average or record precipitation this winter, which made for a green spring. But the nation’s recent heat wave is quickly drying out vegetation, said William Basye, Fire Management Officer at Grand Teton National Park.

“The grass is quickly turning brown. It’s drying out. We're starting to feel the heat a little bit in this area,” he said. “As we move into the summer, the weather we do have is going to contribute to any fire spread and growth.”

Those conditions have led Grand Teton National Park to raise fire danger levels to “high.” Officials in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada are also sounding the alarm – and in some cases, imposing restrictions for open flames.

Basye is reminding people of the importance of basic fire safety, like not leaving campfires unattended. “Really [take] the extra time to douse it with water,” Basye said. “Stir it. Feel it with the back of your hand, make sure it's not hot."

“Stir it again. Add some more water. Just take the extra moment to be vigilant about what your actions are doing that may lead to a wildfire.”

Blazes have sparked this month in Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, according to the Fire Information Resource Management System. Extreme heat is expected to persist through next week in much of the Mountain West.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Will Walkey