A central Utah wildfire that lasted for 10 days beginning on June 23 and cost nearly $4 million to quell was started by arcing power transmission lines that were built too close together, according to a statement by a fire investigator on Wednesday.
Before it was contained, the wildfire, called the Wood Hollow Fire, destroyed 52 homes and killed one man in the 75-square-mile blaze.
Deputy Utah Fire Marshal Troy Mills reported that high winds caused two sets of high-voltage power lines to touch or swing close together. This created a surge that swept down the poles and ignited the dry brush below.
Now, some residents of Utah who lost their homes are considering filing lawsuits against Rocky Mountain Power, which owns the lines. The company said a thief stripped protective copper wire from the poles that could have prevented the surge.
“The investigation into the Wood Hollow fire is a top priority for Rocky Mountain Power. We want to understand exactly what happened,” according to a statement from the company on Wednesday. “We are in the process of doing our own detailed technical analysis in addition to cooperating with fire investigators. There are aspects of this investigation that have yet to be fully analyzed.”
Deputy Mills asserts that the surge would have happened anyway even if copper wires were in place.
Oftentimes, target shooters are blamed for starting wildfires such as the Wood Hollow fire. On July 2, the Associated Press reported that Utah’s state forester Dick Buehler announced a ban on target shooting on public and private land in four Utah counties.
The Daily Herald was quoted in an Outdoor Hub article on the consistent blaming of target shooters in wildfires. The daily said that anecdotal evidence often plays a role in finding someone to blame for a wildfire when actual evidence is not apparent.
Government officials don’t disagree about the scarcity of science [regarding bullets starting fires]. But they claim to have anecdotal evidence — that is, shooters at a fire scene who blame a ricochet. They also blame shooters by process of elimination: if no other evidence shows up indicating another cause, they assume a fire was caused by shooters.
While shooters have been determined to be the cause of 21 of Utah’s wildfires this year, that is only a fraction of Utah’s 486 wildfires this year that were caused by a variety of other reasons.
Image from Staff Sgt. Stephany D. Richards/U.S. Air Force on the flickr Creative Commons