A new program to spray along Interstate 84 ahead of wildfire season is aimed at reducing fires and costs.
Last year, 16 fires started along I-84 between milepost 60 and 110. Those fires burned more than 5,000 acres. The Bureau of Land Management spent more than $280,000 to fight them. That doesn’t include what other agencies spent helping to put those fires out.
The U-S Forest Service is reversing its policy to aggressively fight all wildfires. This change was announced in a letter from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell last month.
In May 2012, Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard issued a "fight all fire" directive. This may be why the feds spent more than $1 billion fighting fires last year. They came in $400 million over budget.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has released aviation figures for the 2012 fire season. The numbers show that about half of the calls for air tankers to assist in fighting wildfires last summer went unfilled.
Idaho ranchers looking to help fight rangeland fires near their homes received a funding nod from lawmakers this Thursday.
The Idaho Budget committee unanimously approved $400-thousand dollars for more volunteer rangeland fire protection associations. The money was requested by Governor Butch Otter in January.
Idaho currently has one fire association, in Mountain Home. Three more are proposed for Owyhee, Elmore, and Twin Falls counties. Graig Glazier is with the Idaho Department of Lands. He says that’s a good start.
The U.S. Forest Service says the death of a 20-year-old firefighter in Idaho last summer was a “chance” occurrence. The new report is in sharp contrast to the findings of federal workplace safety investigators.
Wildland firefighting has always been dangerous but new standards in the last few decades have made fatalities rare. So it was news when a 20-year-old wildland firefighter was killed six months ago in northwest Idaho. Now several government investigations into the death of Anne Veseth are coming out. The first one finds Veseth died under hazardous conditions that could have been avoided.
A new report says climate change will be a growing factor in the way America's forests are managed. The research is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It predicts the number of acres burned in a typical fire season could double in the next quarter century.
To find out more, we spoke with the Forest Service’s Climate Change Advisor, Dave Cleaves. He says weather is changing and forest managers must adapt.
Idaho Governor Butch Otter pledged to make wildfires on public land a priority in 2013. Now, he's asking for $400,000 for four volunteer fire groups in Idaho. They would make ranchers the first responders to fires that threaten homes and livestock.
Recent rain has provided some much-needed relief from the dry conditions Idaho has experienced this year.
According to water supply specialist Ron Abramovich, the rain has gone a long way in ending the wildfire season.
“What it did was put a damper on the fire season finally," says Abramovich, who monitors water levels for the National Resources Conservation Service in Boise. "Too bad it didn’t come in September because it would have helped out a lot more then.”
Wildfires around Idaho kept air tanker bases around the state busy. Airplanes dropped more than a million gallons of fire retardant on fires this year.
The Boise Air Tanker Base is one of seven such bases in Idaho. Les Dixon manages the Boise base. The job there is to load airplanes up with fire retardant and send them out to the front line of the wildfires. “Our base alone, we’ve done 1,500,000 gallons for a total, we’ve done 752 loads have been flown out of the Boise base.”
About a dozen wildfires are still burning in the Northwest keeping the air hazy and unhealthy. But experts predict few, if any, long-term health effects.
Matthew Kadlec is a toxicologist for Washington’s Department of Ecology. He says the wildfire smoke in much of the Northwest isn’t enough to worry most healthy adults. But in many areas there is concern for seniors, children and people who have asthma or illnesses.
In fact, Kadlec says in Wenatchee the smoke particulates are worse than a certain sprawling California city.
Wildfires have already scorched more than one million acres across the Northwest this year. It may take years before the signs of the burns are no longer visible. But charred Northwest forests are already a-buzz with new life.
Burned forests are not quiet places.
“It’s very lively in the forest immediately after a fire," says Connie Mehmel. "Very lively. And a lot of that liveliness is insects.”
Evacuation notices around the Northwest have subsided as fire crews beat back the threat of wildfire to homes and subdivisions.
Officials have removed an alert near Sisters, Oregon, where the Pole Creek Fire is 80 percent contained. In Idaho, the Idaho County Sheriff lifted an evacuation order near the McGuire Complex in the Nez Perce National Forest. And crews at the Wenatchee Complex in Washington have been reduced by half since last weekend.
Wildfire smoke is becoming the “new normal” for some parts of the Northwest. In central Washington, health officials are urging residents to keep their doors and windows closed and stay inside. Bad air has forced at least one school district to take some unusual measures to keep class in session.
The town of Cashmere is at the geographic center of Washington –- and about 8 miles from one of the state’s largest wildfires. Cashmere schools closed last week due to hazardous air, both inside and outside classrooms.
Now, school is back in session. With a few modifications.
Salmon has seen some of the worst air quality in Idaho this year. This month, the town has had several “purple” or very unhealthy air quality days. The Mustang Complex fire is still burning mostly uncontained near the mountain town. Smoke from the blaze has plagued the area for weeks.
But a trace of rain over the weekend and into Monday has given residents of Salmon some much-needed fresh air.
“We’ve never been so happy to see rain in I don’t know how long," says Salmon Public Library employee Anne Schwartz. "So we are thanking God for sure.”
The air quality has not been good today in the Treasure Valley, but it’s not as bad as it looks. The sky has had a yellow brown tinge to it making it look worse than it is according to Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality. Dave Luft, a DEQ air-shed manager, says you can’t always judge the air quality by the sky.