Crews from all over the West and Canada are in Idaho this summer to help fight the state’s wildfires. Collaboration is common when it comes to fire suppression. But this summer’s roster also includes an east coast air tanker unit that’s still recovering from the deaths of four crew members last year.
North Carolina probably wouldn’t be the first place you’d go to find expert crews to battle wildfires in rugged terrain. “Well believe it or not, we do have mountains,” laughs Lt. Col. Harkey of the North Carolina Air National Guard. “We do have the Appalachian Mountains near us.”
Authorities are identifying the wildland firefighter who was killed Thursday outside the town of Sisters as John Hammack of Central Oregon. Another firefighter was injured in the accident and was taken to a local hospital.
On Wednesday night, the skies over Central Oregon were lit up by more than 700 lightning strikes. Hammick was a part of a tree falling team helping put out new fire starts. He was working with 45-year-old Norman Crawford of Sisters when a tree they were cutting fell on them.
It's the first day of August, and wildfire season has already cost Idaho $8.5 million. With two more months of fire activity likely, it's looking like the state will spend more than it did last year to fight fires.
So why the increase in fire fighting costs so early in the summer? The answer lies partly with the kind of fires the state is battling.
When wildfire hits the Foothills of the Treasure Valley, everyone who lives there goes on alert. Three years ago, Nancy Suiter felt that fear when lightning struck the ground near Highway 16.
A wildfire started in the Eagle foothills and the home Suiter and her husband had built 32 years before was in the path of the flames. Her daughter Josie Newton took her mother to the StoryCorps booth in Boise to talk about that day.
Smoke from wildfires is creating poor breathing conditions in parts of the Northwest. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says the air has reached "very unhealthy" levels in parts of southwest Oregon. That's due to a series of wildfires that have led to some evacuations but so far have caused very little property damage. The lingering smoke is the talk of the town in Grants Pass today.
A fire that started Saturday morning near Wenatchee, Wash., has now burned more than 60 square miles in rugged terrain. The fire has burned five homes and the residents of another 60 have been told to evacuate. It's one of nearly two-dozen major fires now burning across the Northwest.
Forecasters predicted a higher-than-normal fire season this year in parts of the region.
Update, 5:00 AM Tuesday: BLM officials now say crews hope to have the Fir Grove Fire contained by Tuesday evening. The latest estimates of burned acreage now put the fire at approximately 7150 acres. Initially, fire officials had estimated the fire's size at more than 8500 acres.
Original post: Sunday afternoon, the Fir Grove Fire sprang up near Gooding, forcing the partial closure of Highway 46 and Highway 20.
Update 10:10 a.m. : The fire has grown to 6,559 acres Friday. Fire managers say they made some progress with fire lines Thursday. The blaze is 5 percent contained. Four more hotshot crews were added to the roster of firefighters.
Wildfires continued burning across southern and central Idaho over the weekend, with several new fires also igniting.
The Ridge Fire north of Lowman in the Boise National Forest has now burned about 3,000 acres. Officials say it's 7 percent contained. Despite predictions Friday of significant growth, the fire did not grow Sunday.
Those managing the fight against a fire burning in the Boise National Forest near Lowman say the fire could burn for weeks.
Lightning started the Ridge Fire Tuesday evening about 15 miles north of Lowman. It’s estimated to have burned nearly 900 acres. But Boise National Forest spokesman Dave Olson says that number is expected to increase quickly.
“We’re anticipating that acreages are doubling each day,” Olson says. "So if conditions continue as they are, I think we could see increases in acreages fairly substantially each day into the future.”
Eight new fires started after a storm rumbled through the Boise National Forest Tuesday night. More than 4,000 lighting strikes were reported. The largest lightning-caused fire had reportedly burned 150 acres by this morning. Crews were ready for new starts after a red flag warning went into effect.
Nearby, the Pine Creek Fire has claimed about 1,500 acres since it started on Monday afternoon. The blaze is about 10 percent contained, with 240 firefighters at work.
Wednesday’s air quality forecast in the Treasure Valley is for “moderate” conditions, which can cause health issues for some people with respiratory problems.
It’s been that way for several days now mainly because of ozone pollution, not wildfire smoke. Ozone is the most common reason for bad air during Idaho summers, but last year was a different story says Michael Toole with Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality.
The Ada County Sheriff's Department credits the swift response of multiple fire agencies for saving about 30 homes along Highway 16 north of Eagle Tuesday night. The fire started around 8 o'clock when lightning from passing storms struck. Within minutes, families in the area near Firebird Raceway started to evacuate.
Ava Linhart lives in the area. She says she and her daughter were home watching the storm when the lightning hit.