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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: firefighting

Crapo, Bennet insert clause in FEMA budget designed to prompt more focus on wildfires

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet have gotten a provision added to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill designed to prompt FEMA to prioritize wildfire prevention. The bill directs FEMA to develop a report identifying any funding obstacles and detailing its wildfire mitigation efforts over the past five years; the two termed the move a “first step” toward getting FEMA to put more priority on wildfire and its prevention. You can read the two senators’ full announcement here.

DC-10 bomber jets up from southern Calif. to attack two Idaho wildfires

A DC-10 jet fire retardant bomber flew into Idaho as part of an aggressive early attack on a pair of wildfires that have forced evacuations at two campgrounds and a Boy Scout camp, the AP reports. Paul Sever of the Central Idaho Fire Center said the jumbo tanker flew in from Southern California on Saturday afternoon and made effective drops on the 50-acre Bradley fire, 15 miles northwest of Stanley, and 600-acre Lodgepole fire 15 miles west of Challis. He said on Sunday that firefighters are optimistic about containing the fires, especially the Bradley fire. “Right now it's looking pretty good,” he said. “We had air tankers hitting it hard last night. We got a lot of things there in a hurry. The chance of catching it at its current size is pretty good.”

Chief Deputy Mike Talbot of the Custer County Sheriff's office said the Bradley fire, which was discovered about 4 p.m. Saturday, forced the evacuation of about 25 people from the Bradley Boy Scout Camp and 75 from Beaver Creek Campground. The Lodgepole fire forced evacuations from the Mosquito Flat Campground. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Crapo, Colo. senator issue bipartisan call for FEMA to fund wildfire prevention

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are calling for FEMA to shift priorities and dramatically step up its funding for wildfire prevention. In the last decade, just 0.5 percent of FEMA’s hazard mitigation assistance spending went to wildfire-related work. “These infrequently funded fire mitigation projects have one of the highest returns on investment out of all the different FEMA mitigation categories,” the two senators wrote to the Senate appropriations subcommittee chair and ranking member for homeland security, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. Dan Coats.

“We ask you to work with FEMA to ensure that a greater share of its pre-disaster mitigation resources go to wildfire mitigation efforts.  Requiring FEMA to report on its efforts to date to support wildfire mitigation projects, and its plans to support fire mitigation activities going forward, would be an important first step,” they wrote. “And we hope to explore additional fire mitigation and preparedness options with the subcommittee, in order to prevent taxpayer dollars from being needlessly consumed in expensive fire suppression operations down the road.” You can read the full letter here.

Ranchers spring into action to fight wildfires, as part of new protective associations

Groups of ranchers are springing into action when wildfires hit, the Times-News reports, as part of Gov. Butch Otter's initiative this year to invest $400,000 from the state to help form and train additional rangeland fire protection associations across the state. Members who volunteer take online and hands-on training with the BLM and are given radios and permission to respond to wildfires on public lands. The Times-News reports that last Friday, members of the Saylor Creek Rangeland Fire Protection Association were on the watch when lightning struck grazing land an hour away from the nearest fire engine, and they successfully dug a fire line using a tractor and disc and stopped the blaze from growing. Click below for a full report from the Times-News via the AP.

The state funding came along with new requirements for the groups, including state review of their structures, training and liability insurance. Idaho has long had timber protective associations; it got its first rangeland one in 2012 at Mountain Home. The Saylor Creek, Owyhee and Three Creek rangeland fire protection associations formed in early 2013, and the state's anticipating another three or four may be formed by next year, in areas including Owyhee County, Twin Falls/Cassia County, Lincoln County, Custer/Lemhi County and Washington/Adams County.

Frasier Fire was started by discarded cigarette

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BANKS, Idaho (AP) — Investigators say a discarded cigarette is the likely cause behind a wildfire that ultimately burned more than 260 acres and threatened a subdivision in central Idaho. Boise National Forest Spokesman Dave Olson says the forest is seeking public help in finding the person responsible for tossing a burning cigarette that ignited the so-called Frasier Fire. The wildfire started Sunday near county Highway 17 about five miles east of the small town of Banks. As it grew, more than 150 firefighters were deployed to put it out and prevent it from moving into a subdivision near the Payette River. Olson says anyone traveling the roadway on July 7 and has information is asked to contact investigators. The fire was contained Wednesday.

Otter wants to see new Russian firefighting jet in action in Idaho

A California firm has been pitching a Russian ambhibious firefighting jet to to U.S. and Idaho officials for fighting wildfires, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants to see the plane up-close in a Boise trial run, the AP reports. The Russian Be-200 can fly 400 mph and suck 3,500 gallons of water from a lake within seconds, potentially allowing it to respond more quickly to fires than planes that drop water or retardant but then must land and be re-filled. “This sounds like a special aircraft, and I would welcome your visit to Idaho,” Otter wrote to David Baskett, president of California-based International Emergency Services on June 10. “Firefighting in Idaho is a significant and ongoing priority, and we need to examine all options for addressing this challenge.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Senators decry sequestration-forced cuts in fire prevention as fire season hits

A bipartisan group of Western U.S. senators, including Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, on Friday urged the Obama administration to focus more on preventing wildfires rather than taking money from programs that clear potentially hazardous dead trees and brush to fund efforts to fight the increasingly destructive blazes, the AP reports. The administration is proposing a 31 percent cut in funding for the government's central fire prevention program one year after record blazes burned 9.3 million acres. The federal government routinely spends so much money fighting wildfires that it uses money meant to be spent on clearing potential fuels like dead trees and underbrush in national forests.

In a letter to Obama's budget director and the secretaries of agriculture and the Interior, four senators contended that approach is “nonsensical and further increases wildfire costs.” Both those secretaries, Tom Vilsack and Sally Jewell, warned of the impact of the cuts as they toured the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise last month; Risch accompanied them. The cuts are being forced by sequestration, the congressionally mandated across-the-board budget cuts.”It’s actually a less efficient use of government money,” Jewell warned then. “It’ll cost us more in the end.” Click below for a full report on the senators' letter from the Associated Press.

Analyzing Otter’s evolving position on federal firefighting efforts…

Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker analyzes the evolution of Gov. Butch Otter's position on firefighting efforts in a column today; you can read it here. Baker reports that when Otter took office in 2007, it was the toughest fire season in Idaho since 1910, and he sharply differed with federal authorities' firefighting approach, calling the rules regulating firefighting “The Don’t Book.” Now, Otter is strongly supporting federal firefighting commanders’ plans for protecting his state in this year's tough fire season. “His support for the plans - putting resources in front of communities, while allowing the fires to burn into wilderness and where past fires have reduced fuels - shows that the West is evolving to accept the new realities of fire,” Barker writes.

Fire season on state lands a light one so far…

The fire season on Idaho state lands so far this year has seen only 48 percent of the 20-year average number of fires, while the acres burned are only 7 percent of the 20-year average, the Idaho state Land Board heard this morning. That's the fourth-fewest number of fires in the last 28 years, and the fifth-fewest acres burned. That was largely because the active fire season was delayed by the cool, wet spring; September is predicted to be warmer and drier than normal, so wildfires could increase. Still, the state is likely to save money on firefighting costs for the year.

‘Normal’ fire season predicted on state lands

As of the close of the state’s fiscal year on July 1, emergency fire suppression costs incurred by the state Department of Lands for the year were $1.95 million. That’s similar to last year’s costs, and is 33 percent of the 20-year average. The number of acres burned was just 12 percent of the 20-year average, at just 31 acres; the average is 253 acres. In fiscal year 2010, there were three lightning-caused fires on state lands and 20 human-caused fires, but only 31 acres burned. The reason: A warm, dry winter was followed by a cool and wet May and June. A report to the state Land Board today said, “Even though early July is predicted to be warmer and drier than normal, the summer is predicted to have normal temperatures with normal rainfall. At this time, the National Interagency Coordination Center is predicting a normal fire season for Idaho.”

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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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