Fires

Idaho agencies bracing for 'interesting,' 'above-average' wildfire season

‘We’re not going to solve it in one fire season’

Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo talks May 2, 2018, about a law Congress passed in March on disaster funding for wildfires. Firefighting eats up a growing amount of the Forest Service's budget for many projects, including those to reduce fires.
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Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo talks May 2, 2018, about a law Congress passed in March on disaster funding for wildfires. Firefighting eats up a growing amount of the Forest Service's budget for many projects, including those to reduce fires.

Fire management and public lands officials from across Idaho on Thursday warned of the likelihood for above-average wildfire activity this season.

According to Bryan Henry, a meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center's predictive services, a mild winter and wet spring left fire fuels around Boise "deceptively green."

As early as next week, Henry warned, warmer temperatures could dry out Southwest Idaho's abundant fuels into a "fully cured state," making them capable of carrying fire.

"We have everything we need today to start a fire," said Boise Fire Department Chief Dennis Doan from Thursday's press conference atop Table Rock. "All we need is an ignition point."

Temperatures in July and August will soar above average, Henry predicted, but El Nino patterns should slow the fire season in September and leave us with an average-length season.

The meeting took place nearly two years to the day after a fire ripped across Table Rock, destroying one home and 2,500 acres of land. Officials from NIFC, the Boise National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Lands emphasized that anniversary as a cautionary tale.

Doan once again warned the public against setting off aerial fireworks, which caused the Table Rock Fire. The Fourth of July is next Wednesday, and people will almost certainly be setting off illegal fireworks, which happens every year.

Although aerial fireworks are illegal in the state, vendors still may sell the fireworks here. The buyer simply has to sign an affidavit stating that the fireworks will not be ignited in Idaho.

"We will come after restitution, and we will prosecute," Doan said.

A 19-year-old Boise man was ordered to pay nearly $400,000 in restitution for starting the 2016 fire around Table Rock.

Though wildfires have not hit Idaho yet, state agencies have had to lend equipment and firefighting teams to neighboring states. Utah and Oregon already have outbreaks.

"It won't be long," said Boise National Forest fire management officer Bob Shindelar. "We'll start seeing large fires coming into Southwest Idaho and the Boise National Forest."

Only you can prevent Idaho wildfires

Andy Delmas, a fire management officer with the Boise District of the Bureau of Land Management, said 80 percent of Boise-area fires in 2017 were caused by humans. As the Fourth of July approaches, firefighting agencies are focused on fireworks safety, though fireworks made up only 5 percent of last year's human-caused fires, Delmas said.

Fireworks are prohibited in the Foothills and the Boise National Forest, and even possessing fireworks on National Forest land can earn you a fine.

The bulk of human-caused fires are started by motor vehicles and shooting, Delmas said. And while public lands are open for shooting year-round, not all equipment is acceptable during fire season. Delmas warned shooters against using exploding targets or steel-core ammunition, both of which can spark fires. He also urged motorists to avoid parking or driving vehicles over dry fuel loads where they might spark flames.

When camping, be sure to bring a shovel and bucket of water or other fire extinguisher, officials said. Unattended campfires can easily spark fires, as can campfires that haven't been fully extinguished.

"With a lot of these human-caused starts, these are all preventable," said Idaho Department of Lands fire warden Casper Urbanek.

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