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Grim Land Board members hear report on wildfires in the state, question safety

A grim Idaho state Land Board heard a report this morning from the state Department of Lands on the ongoing destructive wildfires in the state. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted that he saw the headlines in the newspaper this morning about concerns about hazards on the Steep Corner fire, in which 20-year-old Moscow firefighter Anne Veseth was killed, including questions about communications and coordination by the state Department of Lands on the fire. “I'm concerned for our own crews, making sure they have the communication, organization,” Wasden said. He asked state forester and fire official David Groeschl, “Do you feel satisfied with the communication, coordination, and organization that we have, that it would protect our firefighters?”

Groeschl responded, “We are very diligent.” He said crews receive extensive training and protective gear. “I am very proud and very confident in our folks and what they do out there,” Groeschl said. “The last thing we want to do is put them in harm's way, undue risk.” He noted that firefighting is risky. “We will continue to, as much as we can, ensure the safety of our firefighters.”

Groeschl offered condolences on Veseth's death, and noted that the state Lands Department is conducting one of four investigations into it. The others are led by OSHA, the Forest Service law enforcement branch, and a “serious accident investigation team,” he said.

Groeschl said the state has spent $7.6 million on wildland firefighting so far this season, and expects to recover about $3.1 million from other agencies, for a net cost of $4.5 million. National Guard resources have been mobilized to assist. “Resources now are being stretched thin nationally,” he said. “The next couple of weeks will continue to be challenging. We do not see any season-ending events as far as rainfall for the next couple of weeks.”

The Lands Department's firefighting goal is initial attack, he said, with the goal of containing 95 percent of new fire starts within 10 acres.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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