Jessica Wade began her career in wildland firefighting in her hometown of Vernal. This month she’s stepping into a new role, becoming the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s State Fire Management Officer for Utah during what’s often the busiest time of the year in the Great Basin for wildfire.
“So far we haven’t really seen a whole lot of activity in Utah,” she says, “although the monsoons are coming and the lightning is predicted this week.”
The job involves more than just overseeing BLM’s firefighting resources that include 30 engines, 2 helicopters, the people that staff them and a hotshot crew of around two dozen firefighters. Wade will also coordinate with fire managers throughout the state and the region to make sure that each wildfire is tackled by the right crews and equipment even when budgets are tight.
Rain in southern and eastern parts of the state this year has made the grass grow, and that could be fuel for lightning fires. And northern parts of the state are especially dry. Wade explains how that makes the monsoons a mixed blessing.
“Roughly, 80 or 85 percent are lightning starts,” she says, “so that’s why the monsoonal moisture with the lightning coming in is so concerning for us.”
Wade puts safety of the firefighters and the public as the top priority. But she’ll also try to protect sage grouse habitat, because if that habitat burns in a large fire, there’s a good chance that fire-prone cheat grass will take over where healthy sagebrush range used to be.