Step back and take a deep breath. ... OK, maybe not a good idea because you might choke on the smoke that’s swirling throughout the state.
I know that firsthand because I recently rode about two-thirds of the state on my dual-sport motorcycle, and there was smoke everywhere. (You can read about that ride in Sept. 6 Idaho Outdoors.)
I say take a deep breath because most of those places where wildfires are burning are going to be just fine after the fires are out. Different, but fine.
I’ve come to that conclusion honestly by trying to learn about fire, understand it and see how it affects the places I know.
I accept that fire is as inevitable as rain. It’s going to come, and it may sprinkle and it may pour, but it’s not going to stop coming because we don’t like it.
That’s not to say we should just let wildfires burn unfettered, but the simple reality is we live in a landscape that’s adapted to fire, and it’s naive to think we’re going to put them all out.
So let’s look ahead.
Those places we love are getting transformed, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Your favorite places aren’t going to look like the moon after rain or snow put out the fires. Next year, chances are good they’re going to be lush and green with some skeletal black trunks sticking up through the vegetation.
At least, that’s been my experience in the mountains.
The desert is a different story. It’s typically slower to recover, and sadly, cheat grass and noxious weeds sometimes get a jump on the native plants.
But in the forest, fires are part of a natural cycle that has existed for eons.
Like many people, I was taught by Smokey Bear that wildfires are a bad thing. It’s not that simple, and the basic message to be careful with our campfires is still valid and true.
But the notion of wildfire as a destroyer has been overplayed.
I’ve seen lots of examples.
I watched the record-setting 1994 wildfires on the Payette National Forest that burned more than 300,000 acres. By comparison, the Trinity Ridge Fire had burned more than 110,000 acres.
In 1994, I saw 70-foot spruce and white fir trees burn as quickly as match sticks.
I was awed by the intensity of the fire and equally amazed how flames could consume a full-grown tree in seconds and leave another one unscathed 50 feet away.
For years afterward, I hiked, mountain biked, fished, hunted, and just hung out where some of those wildfires burned north of McCall.
The blackened trunks of those spruce and white fir trees faded to gray and stood solemnly like gravestones in a sea of lush regrowth where elk grazed.
It is and will always be a beautiful place.
In 2000, the Payette broke its old wildfire record when 340,000 acres burned. That included Big Creek, which is one of my favorite places in Idaho.
I talked to firefighters in Big Creek who described it like a flaming hurricane blazing through the canyon.
I mourned the loss of such an amazing place, but I should have known better. I went back the following year, and in most places had to look far up onto the hill-sides to see any burned tree trunks.
I was worried the lush creek had been obliterated but instead had to fight hard through the brush to get to the water and fish because it had grown back so thick. The cutthroat fishing was still amazing.
So don’t stress too much about the fires.
If you’re worried about the Trinity Ridge Fire ruining the Middle Fork of the Boise River (another of my favorite places), I can almost assure you it won’t.
It will look different, just like it looked different after the Hot Creek Fire burned through the area in 2003.
After that fire, people worried trout were wiped out in tributaries of the Middle Fork. Instead, biologists found not only that fish survived, but that others returned and some even spawned early to replenish the streams.
I could go on.
I could tell you about the time I saw the ground literally smoking and at the same time new shoots sprouting from freshly burned bunch grass.
I could show you how every stately, mature ponderosa pine on the Boise National Forest has likely experienced multiple wildfires and how it may have never reached maturity had those fires not come through.
I could show you lodgepole pine forests that grew thick as dog hair and were burned in a whoosh. Less than a decade later, head-high young pines have taken their place.
There’s evidence of fire everywhere in the mountains, but after a year or two, you may have to look pretty hard to find it.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors
Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Sunday. Look for Zimo next week.