Heads of federal agencies in charge of fighting wildfires say northern Idaho will have one of the worst fire seasons in the country this year. Arizona, California and Alaska are already experiencing a severe fire season. But much of the rest of the West is currently at low risk because of wet spring weather. However, Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell said in a briefing Tuesday, as the summer progresses, the fire danger zones will shift.
“Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho moving into Montana will see conditions deteriorate," Tidwell says. "And we’re predicting [an] above average fire season.”
The rest of the 'interior' of the country, Tidwell says, can expect a normal fire season. He says this year will be quite similar to last year in most places.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent much of Tuesday’s conference call expressing concerns that Congress won’t change the funding formula for fighting wildfires. Jewell's agency oversees rangeland across the West while the Forest Service is under the Agriculture Department. They both want money for the worst fires to come from disaster funds, not their annual budgets.
But Vilsack praised lawmakers for increasing the number of aircraft available for fighting wildfires. Many of those aircraft are stationed at the National Interagency Fire center in Boise.
“We now have 21 fixed-wing, large air tankers available,” Vilsack says. “It was just 11 a few years ago. A hundred helicopters ready to be put into action, and we continue to increase our fleet with retrofitting planes we’ve received from the Coast Guard under the Defense Appropriations Act of last year.”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell discussed a new program to get more military veterans involved in wildfire fighting. She also talked about placing greater emphasis on fighting rangeland fires in Great Basin states like Idaho.
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