Wildfires

Some Western Republican officials say their states are missing out on revenues and opportunities to prevent wildfires because they don't have enough control over public lands.

The group on Friday included U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and state lawmakers from Montana, Nevada and Utah.

The gathering follows an announcement last week from another group of Western officials who said it's time they manage federal lands rich in natural resources.

But critics are questioning where states will find resources to manage vast ranges.

historic photo, Cottonwood creek
Idaho Statesman, Boise Public Library

Since the devastating landslide hit the town of Oso, Wash. last month, people who live near hill slopes or mountainsides have been asking if something similar could happen to them. Though Boise has not seen the tragic loss of life the Oso slide brought, the city is no stranger to floods and mudslides near its foothills.

The Idaho Statesman / The Idaho Statesman/Boise Public Library

It was August, 1959. Boise was having one of its typical hot, dry summers. A fire had just burned 9,000 acres in the nearby foothills. Then on August 20, a huge storm system dumped heavy rain on the Treasure Valley. One inch of rain fell in an hour on the burn scar. 

The water overwhelmed the hills and washed away tons of topsoil. A Forest Service video made several years after the event, tells the story.

U.S. Forest Service

Idaho officials have filed a lawsuit against a timber company and its contractor contending they're responsible for a wildfire that killed a 20-year-old Forest Service firefighter and burned more than 300 acres in northern Idaho.

The Lewiston Tribune reports the state filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages for costs in fighting the fire.

Anne Veseth of Moscow died Aug. 12, 2012, after being struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino.

InciWeb / http://www.inciweb.org/incident/3635/

It's still at least three months away, but it looks as though Idaho’s wildfire season should be fairly normal in 2014. Ed Delgado manages predictive services at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

“We’ve got good snowpack right now and assuming it melts off fairly regularly over the next couple of months, that’s going to be good for the soils especially in the mountain areas,” Delgado says. “So that’s going to kind of prolong the wet period.”

Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

A coalition of Congressional Democrats and Republicans gathered in Boise Monday to tout a proposal that would change the way the federal government pays for firefighting operations in the West and beyond.   

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined Sen. Mike Crapo, R-ID, Sen. Jim Risch, R-ID, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-ID, and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to create a new way to pay for battling wildfires that prevents the diversion of money intended to reduce the size of such fires.

Lawmakers from Oregon and Idaho met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday to discuss the budget reform.

President Obama's proposed budget seeks a change in the long-standing method of funding the fight against the most catastrophic wildfires.

Elk Complex, wildfire
Ashley Smith / Times-News

The Bureau of Land Management has closed about 54,000 acres northeast of Mountain Home in southern Idaho to all entry until April 30 in an effort to rehabilitate areas scorched by two wildfires.

The agency tells the Idaho Statesman that the area will also be closed year-round to motorized use for up to three years.

Officials say the closures are needed to protect key sage grouse habitat and crucial winter habitat for mule deer and elk.

Fighting wildfires would be funded more like hurricane and flood response under a proposal out of the Northwest that won President Obama's endorsement.

Boise National Forest

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo says he expects wildfire funding legislation he introduced just before Christmas to get bipartisan support in Washington.

Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, introduced the legislation on December 19. If approved, it would bolster funding for the U.S. Forest Service.

At issue is the agency’s firefighting budget, which is regularly exhausted before a wildfire season ends. Funds from other parts of the agency’s budget are then used to cover additional costs. That money often comes from fire prevention budgets, which can make future fires worse.

Wildfires, Maps
Courtesy of the Idaho Water Science Center / USGS

The Beaver Creek wildfire burned 174-square-miles in August and threatened Ketchum and Hailey. After the fire, torrential rains sent mud and rocks down burned mountainsides. Debris hit homes and covered roads.

“Some of these debris flows were 20 to 30 feet thick,” recalls Dave Evetts. He’s the assistant director for hydrologic data at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Idaho Water Science Center in Boise.

wood roof, cedar shake
WSilver / Flickr Creative Commons

The Hailey City Council has voted to prohibit the use of cedar-shake shingles on rooftops in the wake of last summer's large wildfire.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports the council made the decision early last week.

The new rule exceeds the Wildland Urban Interface Code by prohibiting cedar-shake shingles entirely.

The 170-squre-mile Beaver Creek fire destroyed one home and threatened hundreds of others until it was contained in early September.

Mountain Home Ranger District / fs.usda.gov

Federal employees are scrambling to catch up on things left undone for nearly three weeks. That’s after tens of thousands of workers were furloughed during the partial government shutdown, which ended last Thursday.

But on Idaho’s public lands, some work can’t be caught up. The shutdown's timing was particularly bad for wildfire prevention and rehabilitation.

It has been a deadly year for the people who fight wildfires. In total, 32 people have lost their lives fighting fires in 2013; the highest number in nearly 20 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Just one incident accounts for most of those deaths, the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. In June, the blaze blasted through a firefighting crew known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots; 19 of the 20 men died.

Sawtooth National Forest / InciWeb

The Beaver Creek Fire moved through 174 square miles of land in August, threatening communities in the Wood River Valley.

GHarness / Flickr Creative Commons

Trout Unlimited and the Wood River Land Trust have announced a plan to restore the Big Wood River in central Idaho.

The partnership announced last week and called the Big Wood River Home Rivers Initiative is described as a long-term effort to reconnect tributaries, promote fish passage and maintain stream flows.

Scott Boettger of the Wood River Land Trust says summer wildfires followed by mudslides combined with low flows and increased water temperatures are timely reminders of the challenges the Big Wood faces.

U.S. Forest Service

The 2012 wildfire season went down as one of the most active in Idaho’s history. It was an expensive year too, with more than $211 million spent to suppress fires that burned 1.75 million acres.

According to a new report by Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League, there are some valuable lessons imbedded in those stats.

Authorities say both lanes of U.S. Highway 20 north of Mountain Home have reopened following a mudslide.

Authorities tell KTVB-TV that mud on Thursday closed one lane of the route that carries traffic from Boise to the central Idaho resort area of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The mudslide occurred between Cow Creek Road and Anderson Ranch Dam Road.

Elmore County dispatchers say one person had to be rescued after a rainstorm on Thursday caused rocks and mud to slide onto roadways.

Steve Dondero

Warm Springs Creek is a clean and beautiful tributary of the Big Wood River in Blaine County. The creek is also a great spot for fly-fishing.

Well...normally.

But after the 174-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire was officially contained last week, heavy rain and thunderstorms moved through. That storm and the continued rain that followed brought mud, ash and debris down the mountain – and into Warm Springs Creek and the Big Wood River.

Boise National Forest

People in the West are breathing some cleaner air these days, after a summer of dangerous and smoky wildfires.

As the wildfire season begins to wind down, Ken Frederick at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise looked into this question: how does this summer's fire season stack up against prior ones? Frederick decided to tackle the topic through a short and info-packed video.

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