Parleys Canyon Fire Offers Blunt Reminder of Utah’s Ever-Present Wildfire Danger

I’m writing about the wildfire still burning in Parleys Canyon from Jack’s couch right now. You don’t know Jack, but he’s a nice guy who made me a good cup of coffee this morning. Though I frequently write on couches, I rarely work on Jack’s couch. It’s only because I haven’t been allowed back in my house since Summit County issued an evacuation order on Saturday afternoon.

The Parleys Canyon fire, which was started by a faulty catalytic converter sparking from a car driving up I-80, likely isn’t going to end up destroying any structures, but that’s only thanks to some truly heroic efforts from firefighters and the good fortune of having a fleet of air tankers nearby and ready to drop literal tons of retardant and water. “We were the only show in the west yesterday, so we got everything we wanted. We dropped so much retardant,” air attack officer Trevor Pollock relayed via text. The circumstances of this latest fire are remarkably familiar to Summit County residents, closely resembling last summer’s blaze in Parleys Canyon, which was started by dragging truck chains and forced the evacuation of homes in Mt. Aire.

Despite the optimism surrounding ongoing mitigation efforts, the fire is a stark reminder of the precarious nature of living in wilderness-urban interfaces, especially as climate change exacerbates fire conditions with higher temperatures and frequent droughts. If air resources had been allocated to other ongoing fires or the winds had picked up, it’s entirely possible Summit County residents would be looking at a much different outcome.

Two fires may have sparked in similar areas of Parleys Canyon over the past year, but everywhere from houses in Jeremy Ranch to condos at Deer Valley to cabins outside of Kamas are susceptible to fast-moving wildfires. Communities are trying to prepare with ongoing fuel-reduction projects (Summit Park recently undertook such action with the help of Basin Recreation) among other strategies, but as elevated fire risk becomes the new status quo, everyone is suffering from the anxiety and aftermath of wildfires.

8,000 homes in Summit Park and Pinebrook were evacuated on short notice, and not everybody has a spare bedroom to stay in and a convenient Plan B for work and childcare. Nor is it particularly pleasant for anyone to decide which items are important enough to be worthy of valuable trunk space while leaving a residence behind on short notice.

If all goes well, officials are hoping to lift the evacuation orders sometime on Tuesday. A 72-hour inconvenience isn’t much for me to complain about while a phalanx of firefighters digs fire line below a cavalcade of airplanes and helicopters delivering water and retardant. It’s an incalculable amount of public resources—hooray for FEMA funding— working to protect our neighborhood, so mostly all we feel is gratitude. For now, my family and I are splitting time between some family and friends trying to spread out the burden of making extra cups of coffee for me while pretending my two-year-old’s antics are adorable, not irritating. At least she thinks the sleepovers are pretty fun.

Check out Firewise resources here and here for more information about how to prepare for and prevent wildfires. Remember to keep your vehicles in good working order and off dry vegetation.

For more Park City updates, click here.

Tony Gill
Tony Gill
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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