Pioneer Fire

via Twitter / BLM Idaho

At this time last year, a gigantic wildfire in the Boise National Forest held the record as the largest wildfire in the country.


Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

The Pioneer Fire started a year ago this week in the backcountry just north of Idaho City. The blaze would rage on for months, darkening the sky with smoke and eventually charring almost 300 square miles. Although the fire is now a memory, a lingering danger remains: dead trees. Millions burned in the Pioneer Fire and more could catch with a single spark in the Boise Foothills.

Monica Gokey / Boise State Public Radio

At 5:00 a.m., thick morning haze slowly gives way to daylight. In an area of the Pioneer burn designated for commercial morel picking, charred trees dot the forest. The ground is a mix of black ash and new plant life. 

Siong Lee of central California walks through the forest, eyes downcast. He is looking for something very specific: morel mushrooms. 

 

Lee and his picking partner spread out from each other, but stay in touch over walkie talkies, speaking their native language of Hmong.

Minutes go by without a single mushroom. Then . . .

Wildfire,
Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Firestorms are a particularly terrifying – and largely unknown – phenomenon. The naturally occurring events happen during megafires, when a wildfire burns so hot and so fiercely that surrounding air is drawn in, creating powerful winds that remove moisture from nearby fuel – increasing the already extreme fire risk.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The day before his new exhibit opening in downtown Boise, Giuseppe Licari takes a break from building his installation. Licari sits in the courtyard behind Ming Studios sipping an espresso as he takes a puff of his cigarette. As it turns out, the Sicilian-born artist is kind of obsessed with smoke – and what it means for a landscape. 

National Weather Service

With rain in the forecast, the National Weather Service in Boise is warning of the possibility of flash flooding and mudslides in the 294 square miles burned by the Pioneer Fire.

A low pressure system could bring up to a half inch of rain Thursday to parts of the Boise National Forest that were burned by the Pioneer Fire. While that could slow the still-burning blaze down, it could also bring flash flooding.

Boise National Forest

The Pioneer Fire grew dramatically this week, shooting its way through the Boise National Forest. In just two days, it burned more than 70 square miles. So far it has burned 281 square miles.

Despite more than 1,000 people working the fire, it's only 52 percent contained. And officials say it won't be under control until a major rain or snow event, probably sometime in October.

Why is it burning so fast? And so much? And why can't firefighters surround it? This video, from the Boise National Forest, gives a pretty good snapshot of what crews are facing on this megafire:

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

KBSX reporter Frankie Barnhill visited base camp at the Pioneer Fire on Aug. 27 to profile Type 1 Incident Commander Beth Lund. Adam Cotterell asks her about the experience, including what's up with the women's only porta potties, what to eat at fire camp, and how to earn "trail cred" in wildland firefighting.