SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other officials reversed themselves Monday and declared the state had the power to restrict gun use on tinder-dry public lands in the wake of another wildfire sparked by target shooting.
Herbert and legislative leaders appeared jointly to announce that they were empowering state forester Dick Buehler to impose firearms restrictions outside of cities and towns where the fire danger is extreme. No immediate restrictions went into place.
The state leaders insisted their decision doesn’t limit Second Amendment gun rights, yet for weeks, state officials have said they were powerless to ban target shooting on public lands.
Two new wildfires broke out on national forest lands Sunday, including one caused by target shooting.
The fire started late Sunday at the base of Millville Canyon in the Logan area. It spread to a Utah wildlife management area for elk and deer, and to the surrounding Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
The wildfire is the 21st in Utah caused by target shooting this year, state Fire Marshal Brent Halladay told The Associated Press.
The state forester was authorized to impose gun restrictions that state leaders didn’t specify, leaving the decision to Buehler. Much of the state is under extreme fire warning.
“The state forester has the ability to make these kinds of restrictions in certain areas of the state he believes the data shows is extremely hazardous,” said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. “We’re not interested in blanket bans or limiting people’s Second Amendment rights to carry firearms.”
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said, “We’re not trying to take away people’s rights ... but they shouldn’t be doing things that create a fire.”
The leaders apparently decided Herbert had sufficient emergency powers to act.
State and federal authorities banned steel-jacketed bullets on public lands about a week ago, telling sportsmen to use lead or cooper bullets that don’t give off sparks.
With steel bullets, “You might just go up there and strike a match,” said Halladay, who called Utah’s wildfire hazard the worst he’s seen in a 40-year career.
The 109-acre fire started by the gunfire was expected to be fully contained by late Monday. It came as close as a half-mile to Millville but didn’t threaten houses, officials said.
In southern Utah, evacuations were ordered as the 500-acre Shingle Fire threatened about 100 cabins inside Dixie National Forest, about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City.
Authorities requested more crews and managers for that fire. It’s unknown what caused the blaze that broke out Sunday.
In all, 10 wildfires were burning Monday across Utah.
The most threatening could be the Seeley Fire, which grew by nearly half Sunday to 51 square miles inside the Manti-LaSal National Forest in central Utah.
Driven by dry thunderheads, the fire crept as close as a quarter-mile to the former mining camp of Hiawatha, which has a handful of residents. It was within two miles of Clear Creek, which has 42 summer homes.
Crews were protecting both towns around the clock, said fire spokeswoman Jonetta Trued. The Seeley Fire was 10 percent contained and burning dense stands of beetle-killed spruce.