Wildfires

Courtesy of DFPA

Remotely monitored video cameras are replacing some human fire lookouts on mountaintops around the Northwest.

A private non-profit called the Douglas Forest Protective Association was the first in the region to switch to remote camera fire detection. The southwest Oregon-based association deployed its first system in 2007.

The firefighting consortium's Kyle Reed said it has now replaced all of its manned fire lookouts with video cameras.

Remotely monitored video cameras are replacing some human fire lookouts on mountaintops around the Northwest.

Wildfire, fire fighter
U.S. Forest Service

The Obama administration is detailing the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects, as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe fires.

In a new report issued Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said that staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998.

Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.

In the battle against wildfires, the Forest Service often draws on a fleet of air tankers — planes that drop fire retardant from the sky.

But the fleet shrank dramatically in the early 2000s, and by 2012, the Forest Service was woefully low on planes. Now, the agency is quickly increasing the number of planes at its disposal — and modernizing the fleet in the process by adding bigger, faster and more efficient planes.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

Those who oversee the government’s aerial firefighting operations are asking the public to keep drones away from wildfires. Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise say there have been three instances this year in which drones interfered with aerial firefighting.

One of the incidents occurred in early June over the Two Bulls Fire in Oregon. Another was on the Carlton Complex Fire in north central Washington in July. And officials say the third - in northern California - recently forced firefighters to shut down their aerial attack for a period of time.

Inciweb

A 7,000 acre fire burning north of Boise near the town of Sweet, Idaho made a significant run after sparking Saturday afternoon. The Timber Butte Fire is burning in Gem and Boise counties.  

The Idaho Department of Lands is managing the fire, and is scheduled to hand over command to a Type 2 incident management team. Three outbuildings have burned in the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.  Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio

Big Cougar Fire
Idaho Department of Lands

This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. Aug. 11, 2014

The Big Cougar fire burning in northern Idaho has charred 65,000 acres and is 50 percent contained.

The Idaho Department of Lands reports nine structures have now been destroyed by the fire that is burning south of Lewiston. An additional 200 structures are still considered threatened.

Lightning sparked the fire August 2. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations are still in effect for some residents in the area. Click here to find the latest.

Inciweb

It might seem like fire season is as bad as it’s ever been. But there’s a group of researchers who question that prevailing wisdom.

Three fresh science papers from separate institutions each makes the case that today's forest fires in the West burn less than in historical times. One of the co-authors is Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon.

Northwest cattle ranchers are struggling to get their herds out of the way of raging wildfires. Some herds have been lost, others badly injured.

Boise National Forest

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the U.S. Forest Service will soon have to tap into programs designed to prevent wildfires so that it can meet the expenses of fighting blazes this summer.

Vilsack says about $400 million to $500 million in forestry projects will have to be put on hold in what has become a routine exercise.

He predicted that the money set aside strictly for firefighting will run out by the end of August.

Some 30 large fires are working their way through federal and state forests in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Darin Oswald / Idaho Statesman

Wildfires in the West are getting bigger, hotter and more costly. A new report from a national science advocacy group says climate change is one major reason wildfires are getting worse. And short-sighted development policies are a big reason they’re costing more.

In recent years, the number of homes and businesses built in wildfire-prone areas has skyrocketed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, across 13 Western states there are more than 1.2 million homes -- with a combined value of about $190 billion -- that are at high or very high risk of wildfires.

As wildfire season rages in California, firefighting help is coming from an unexpected place: prison. Thousands of low-level offenders have become a crucial component of how the state battles wildfires.

If there's a wildfire here, there are inmates battling it.

Emir Dunn is one of the inmates working a wildfire in the mountainous area of northern California near Oregon. The fire has already scorched nearly 13,000 acres and the temperatures here are unrelenting.

7 Lightning-Caused Fires Spark On The Boise National Forest

Jul 31, 2014

Seven small lightning-caused wildfires are burning on the Boise National Forest after Wednesday night's storm. Forest officials say all the fires are small, at less than 5 acres each, and no structures are threatened.

Firefighters already have lines built around most of the new starts.

The largest fire is called the Crooked Fire, burning southeast of Kirkham.

Fire officials say more lightning-caused fires could be detected over the next few days.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio

Photo courtesy: Ransdell family

Contract firefighters can often be found on the front lines. They’re usually indistinguishable from government firefighters. But a recent court ruling has re-emphasized that if they’re killed in the line of duty, there’s a big difference.  

Though wildfires this summer have burned hundreds of homes and scorched thousands of square miles of land in Washington, Oregon and California, officials say that so far, this wildfire season could be worse.

But the cost of fighting those fires has skyrocketed, and the Obama administration and some in Congress say it's time to rethink how those dollars are spent.

In places like central Washington, watching the evening news has recently not been for the faint of heart, with daily broadcasts chronicling evacuations of local towns with the approach of "firestorms."

Idaho's Whiskey, Mack Fires Fully Contained

Jul 28, 2014
Boise National Forest

Idaho's Whiskey Complex and Mack fires burning north of Boise are now fully contained. A Boise National Forest spokesman says mop up and monitoring of the fires will continue Monday.

The Whiskey Complex was a series of fires sparked by lightning on July 13. It has burned 9,446 acres south of Garden Valley on the Boise National Forest. Spokesman David Olson says isolated areas of smoke will still be visible this week as the fire smolders within its containment lines.

The Mack fire was one of 27 fires started by lightning last week. It burned 229 acres.

Federal funds are being used to help fight the wildfires that have raged across the Northwest this summer. But so far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency isn't handing out money directly to owners of the nearly 200 homes lost in the blazes.

wildfires
Photo Courtesy Boise National Forest

This post was updated at 11:15 a.m. July 25, 2014.

Fire officials say they've nearly contained all 27 of Wednesday's lightning-caused wildfires on the Boise National Forest and state lands north of Boise.

The Mack Fire is still the largest, now estimated at 270 acres. It's now 10 percent contained.

This post was updated at 10:25 a.m. July 24, 2014.

A Boise National Forest spokesman says 14 of 27 lightning-caused fires burning on federal and state lands north of Boise are now contained.

Whiskey complex, wildfires
Photo Courtesy Boise National Forest

This story was updated at 10:00 a.m. July 24, 2014. 

The Whiskey Complex Fire burning in the Boise National Forest is now 75 percent contained.

The fire is estimated at 9,446 acres. The Forest Service says 851 people are staffing the fire, which is expected to be fully contained by July 28.

The voluntary evacuation order for 60 homes along the South Fork Road has been lifted, while the closure of the South Fork Payette River Road is still in effect. Access to that road is only available to fire crews and residents.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in southern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and a small portion of eastern California because of wildfire and public safety concerns.

Intermountain Region Forester Nora Rasure issued the ban that started Wednesday and runs through July 22, 2015, on national forest lands.

Some target shooters use exploding targets because they contain chemicals that mix when struck by a bullet and create a loud bang and big puff of smoke.

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