By Lauren Masters
As Utah enters its fifth year in a drought, Gov. Mike Leavitt prepared for the summer wildfire season Thursday, June 12, by issuing a state of emergency declaration.
The declaration, renewable every 30 days until the wildfire season passes, gives officials the power to activate the state”s emergency operations plan and receive state and federal aid in case of a wildfire.
Without the state of emergency status, wildfires could burn for several days while the executive order was drafted and signed by the governor, said Natalie Gochnour, the governor”s deputy for policy and communication.
“This is something we do every year,” Gochnour said. “It sets in place the necessary steps to protect property and the environment.”
Placing Utah in an official state of emergency is a requirement for aid under the Disaster Response and Recovery Act of 1981. According to the act, emergency response funds cannot be issued to local governments until the governor declares a state of emergency.
“It allows us to, with a phone call, request and receive federal resources,” Gochnour said.
Because the risk of wildfires is high in Utah this year because of low rainfall, the governor will renew the order in July, August and September, Gochnour said.
“In the fifth year of drought, it has become quite routine for us,” Gochnour said.
The governor classifies the order as a preventative measure.
“It”s a proactive step to make sure we are ready,” Gochnour said.
According to the Associated Press, the Forest Service made preparations to house a P2V, a plane capable of carrying between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, at Hill Air Force Base for the summer.
The threat of a wildfire is relatively low now but will increase as the summer progresses, the Associated Press said.