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Posts tagged: Idaho fires

Ranchers slated to join Idaho firefighting efforts

Even as Gov. Butch Otter pushes to help create new state-funded rancher groups to fight wildfires in this year's legislative session, one such existing group in Idaho is under scrutiny by federal safety investigators following a fatal firefighting accident last summer, Associated Press reporter John Miller reports. Today, the House Resources Committee approved a measure governing how these new rancher-led organizations are established. Idaho's new associations will be volunteer, formed by ranchers who have long sought permission to use their farm equipment to help corral range fires, Miller reports; in some instances, ranchers say they can act more quickly than BLM crews can respond. The legislation sets standards for the groups including requiring state review of their training plans and liability insurance; click below for Miller's full report.

Trinity Ridge fire 100 percent contained, hazards continue in fire areas…

The Trinity Ridge fire, which threatened the towns of Pine and Featherville and blazed across more than 146,000 acres for more than two months, has now been fully contained. After that official designation came on Monday, an inch of rain fell on it Monday and Tuesday, helping further dampen the still-smoldering blaze. Meanwhile, at least eight active wildfires still are burning in Idaho, most of them smoldering or creeping, though their growth has been dampened by the change in weather. Several fires continue to burn in north-central Idaho.

The Halstead fire 18 miles northwest of Stanley is 65 percent contained; the Wesley fire 12 miles northwest of New Meadows is 50 percent contained with an estimated containment of Nov. 1; and the giant Mustang Complex fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which covers 340,659 acres, is 59 percent contained with an estimated containment date of Oct. 30.

Some closures continue in the fire areas, and hazards include falling and rolling trees and snags, fire officials report. Rehab work already has started in the Trinity Ridge area, including erosion control work aimed at limiting damage when the post-fire spring runoff hits. That fire started Aug. 3.

Treasure Valley air quality deteriorates…

Yuck. The sunrise was bright orange again, and now the sky is brown. Wildfire smoke is settling densely over the Treasure Valley, pushing air pollution levels up. Today's air quality is predicted to be in the “upper moderate” range, a range that stretches from 50 to 100 AQI, up from yesterday's AQI of 64. Moderate, or yellow, air quality falls short of the next range, orange, or “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” This morning's 9 a.m. readings included 113.6 at Boise Fire Station No. 5; 84 in Meridian; and 84 in Nampa. Dave Luft of the Idaho DEQ said, “We're hovering right between the yellow and the orange right now. … The prognosis going forward is that we may get a break come Saturday, but that's kind of iffy.” Personally, I've had a bad scratchy throat since yesterday morning, and I'm not even in any sensitive groups. Time to pray for rain…

Volunteer firefighter arrested for arson while fighting wildfire he’s accused of setting

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Officials in Boise County say they've arrested an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter suspected of igniting a blaze that destroyed one home and is threatening about 100 other residences. Authorities identified the suspect Tuesday as Nathanial Fay Bartholomew. He was arrested on a felony arson charge for allegedly causing the Karney Fire that has so far burned 250 acres in the Robie Creek area of the Boise National Forest. Forest spokesman David Olson says the fire started late Monday afternoon. About a dozen residences were evacuated Monday night while additional homes received evacuation orders Tuesday morning. Sheriff's officials said Bartholomew lives in the area. Investigators say it appears the fire was set some in pine cones and other fuel at the side of a road then spread to a nearby home.

Meanwhile, KTVB-TV is reporting that Bartholomew was arrested while actively fighting the fire; that under questioning, authorities said he confessed to intentionally starting it; and that the apparent motive was to get the attention of his father, a firefighter; you can read their full report here.

Heavy smoke in Salmon prompts health advisory, Treasure Valley’s air inches into ‘good’ range

Air quality in Lemhi and Custer counties has hit the “very unhealthy” category, prompting warnings from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to stay indoors as much as possible; older adults, young children and those with medical conditions will be most affected, but it's bad enough that everyone is being advised to avoid heavy work or exercise outdoors in the affected areas. “Salmon's getting inundated with smoke,” said Mike Toole of the Idaho DEQ. “They're in the 'very unhealthy' category continually.”

Meanwhile, the Treasure Valley's air has improved so much that it's actually inched into the green or “good” category, though the forecast was for it to stay in the yellow or “moderate” range. Current pollution is in the 40s on the air quality index, at the high end of the “good” category that ends at 50. “The forecasts we made were actually high,” Toole said. “It's fantastic. … We've actually experienced a lot better air quality than we anticipated.” Favorable wind and weather conditions have cleared the valley's air so well that even when changing conditions bring smoke back in, it's likely not to get as bad as it's been in recent weeks, Toole said.

Because wildfire smoke is such a highly visible pollutant, people who live in areas without air monitors can tell how bad it gets just by looking. “If visibility is reduced to less than eight miles, sensitive groups should limit activity,” Health & Welfare advises in a statement today. “If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. Visibility of less than one mile is considered hazardous and everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” People in Salmon who lack air conditioning are being advised to visit the Salmon Public Library or Salmon Valley Baptist Church for relief from the smoke; click below for Health & Welfare's full advisory.

Trinity Ridge fire now 43 percent contained, Boise skies noticeably clearer

Firefighters are reporting some progress against major Idaho wildfires, though there are currently nine major fires burning and several are proving difficult to bring under control. The evacuation of Featherville due to the giant Trinity Ridge fire was lifted on Sunday for residents, and that blaze is now 43 percent contained; Boise's skies have noticeably cleared of smoke over the past two days, though air quality was predicted to remain in the moderate range. (An earlier official report that the fire was 68 percent contained turned out to be a calculation error; it was adjusted downward to 43 percent today to correct that.) Full containment on the Trinity Ridge fire still isn't expected until Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the Halstead fire is just 3 miles north of Stanley and is only 7 percent contained, and the Mustang Complex fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest is 16 percent contained with an estimated containment date of Sept. 30. Both those fires were started by lightning, while the Trinity Ridge fire is classified as human-caused, having started when an ATV caught fire Aug. 3. Idaho also has five active wildfires burning in the Nez Perce National Forest and one in the Clearwater, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Click below for a fire update from the AP.

Bear cub with paws burned in wildfire to get daily medical treatment

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― State wildlife officials say a black bear cub rescued from a wildfire burning the backcountry in eastern Idaho will need daily medical care for burns on all four paws. The 25-pound bear nicknamed “Boo Boo” was discovered Sunday night all alone and clinging to a tree in an area recently scorched by fires associated with the Mustang Complex Fire. Efforts to find the mother were unsuccessful. Officials also say the cub likely had not eaten for at least four days. A veterinarian with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Boo Boo has second-degree burns on each paw, needs daily bandage changes and six weeks to heal. Officials wanted to rehabilitate the bear at a wildlife sanctuary in McCall, but the extent of the burns requires more intensive care.

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.

Otter to tour wildfires today; his cabin is among structures in communities at risk…

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will join National Guard and state Homeland Security officials on a helicopter tour of wildfires burning in the Pine and Stanley areas today, along with some on-the-ground stops; he'll then meet with reporters and share what he's seen. It's an issue that's personal for Otter, who many years ago was a wildland firefighter himself, and who spent last Thursday, Friday and Saturday at his log cabin in Pine, clearing pine needles, downed branches and other flammables away and removing keepsakes from the cabin as the huge Trinity Ridge fire burned toward the small communities of Featherville and Pine.

Otter's had the riverfront cabin since April of 2001; it was a favorite getaway during his three terms in Congress and a jumping-off point for hunting trips; he has fond memories of family Thanksgivings there in years past, though he's had little chance to get there in recent years. “I'm ashamed to say that it has been a good two years, except for this last weekend,” he said today. While Otter and First Lady Lori Otter were at the cabin, they removed keepsakes including a letter from then-President Ronald Reagan that Otter had framed and kept on the wall. “We were able to get all the pine needles and pine cones, all that kind of stuff cleared out,” he said.

While he was there, he also attended three public meetings at a local senior center. “The crews just came in and did a tremendous job of planning, explaining to us … why we should leave,” Otter said. “When we left, we told them, 'We're gone,' so they didn't have to worry about us being there.”

It's a log cabin, but Otter said he's glad it has a metal roof, given the fire danger. Asked how smoky the air was during his visit, Otter said, “Oh, it was awful, it was awful.”

While he was working around the cabin, a news crew from KTVB-TV caught up with him; he said with a chuckle that after footage aired of him operating a chainsaw, he got a call from Valley Tool, where he buys and repairs his saws, saying, “Hey, get in here and get a pair of safety goggles!” Otter said sheepishly that he had the goggles; he just hadn't put them on.

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.

USFS crew refused to work on Steep Corner fire day before Veseth’s death, due to hazards

The Lewiston Tribune is reporting that a day before 20-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth was killed on the Steep Corner Fire, a specialized Forest Service fire crew refused to work on the fire due to hazards including multiple cedar snags burning from halfway up down to the base. Veseth, of Moscow, was killed the next day when a tree fell and crashed into another, which fell on her. You can read the Trib's report here. Click below for more on this from the Associated Press; you can read the full SAFENET report here on the hazard concerns; hat tip to Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker for the link to the report.

Boise air tanker base sets record for fire retardant dumps in big wildfire year

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Federal officials say the air tanker base in Boise has so far dumped more than 1 million gallons of fire retardant on wildfires burning across Idaho this year. That surpasses totals recorded for the past 11 years dating to 2001 and the first eclipse of the 1-million gallon mark since 2007. This fire season, pilots have dumped 1.2 million gallons of the red retardant on wildfires, topping the previous record of 1.19 million gallons in 2006. Officials at the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker Base say the annual average during the last 11 years is 611,000 gallons. Nearly a third of the 2011 dump has targeted fires on the Boise National Forest. More than 245,000 gallons were dropped on the initial attack on the Trinity Ridge Fire burning near Featherville.

Fires intensify, rafters shuttled out from Middle Fork of Salmon River

Here's how bad western wildfires are getting: Not only are dozens of homes burning in central Washington near Cle Elum and two towns preparing for evacuation in Idaho, but 250 rafters were stranded for up to two days on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, after authorities closed a backcountry access road due to falling boulders and debris caused by wildfire. Authorities shuttled the stranded floaters out this morning with pilot cars, but this afternoon, more debris came down and the road closed again. That means as more rafters head down the Middle Fork to the Main Salmon, the point where they typically board buses for the trip out after a six-day rafting trip, they, too, could face delays.

There was a steady stream of traffic leaving Pine and Featherville today as the residents of the two small communities were advised to pack up their belongs as the Trinity Ridge fire approaches, reports AP reporter Jessie Bonner; that blaze has burned more than 100 square miles in the past two weeks and is headed for the outskirts of Featherville. “It's not a question of if, but when,” Boise National Forest spokesman Dave Olson told the AP; click below for the full report. National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said fires have intensified in recent days in Washington, northern California and Nevada. “Nevada has been hammered,” she said, “and Idaho has some big ones that are going to burn until the snow falls.”

Evacuation planned for Pine, Featherville

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Fire managers are trying to gather residents of two small central Idaho towns to discuss evacuation plans as the Trinity Ridge wildfire grows closer. The Great Basin National Incident Management Team announced that a meeting would be held at 10:30 Wednesday morning at the Pine Senior Center to discuss evacuation plans for Featherville and Pine with residents. The Trinity Ridge fire is burning on about 100 square miles just 7 miles from Featherville, and it's showing extreme fire behavior, with embers lighting new blazes far from the main body of the flames. Campers in the area have already been evacuated, and officials are warning residents of Atlanta to evacuate if they have respiratory health problems.

Moscow firefighter’s death highlights dangerous job crews face on fire lines

The death of 20-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth of Moscow while fighting the Steep Corner fire near Orofino is highlighting the dangerous job crews face as at least a dozen blazes continue to burn across the state, the Associated Press reports. Veseth died Sunday when a tree fell and crashed into another tree, causing it to topple on her. “The Forest Service is devastated by the loss of one of our own,” said Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell, adding that his agency is investigating the fatal incident. “We ask the public to join us in keeping the family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Veseth, pictured here, was a student at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, where she was studying auto mechanics; her older brother also is a wildland firefighter in Idaho. You can read more here.

Woman fleeing Colo. wildfire crashes in Idaho, ignites new blaze

That 2,000-acre wildfire that was set off this week by a car accident on I-84 south of Boise? Turns out the driver was a 19-year-old woman fleeing the destructive Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, who had loaded her most-valued possessions into her car - including her mother's wedding dress - and headed off for her father's house in Oregon. A mechanical failure caused the young woman to lose control while passing another vehicle, the ISP said, and the Subaru crashed and burned, igniting dry grass along the roadway. The woman, Krista McCann, told KTVB-TV she lost everything in the car in the resulting blaze except her purse; she escaped without injury. “This is everything I own now,” she told the TV station, holding open her purse. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and KTVB.

A smoky, hazy start to Boise’s day…

It was a smoky, hazy sunrise in Boise today, as seen here looking across Lucky Peak Lake just east of town. That's from the numerous wildfires still burning in the region. The Stone fire, between 8th Street and Rocky Canyon road in the foothills just east of town, was contained last night at 50 acres; no structures were burned, and crews will continue monitoring it today, said Boise BLM spokesman Brandon Hampton. The Avelene fire in Boise County was 50 percent contained last night at 250 acres; more than 100 firefighters were fighting it, including hand crews, engines, helicopters and air tankers. “There are homes within close proximity to the fire, but at this point all the forward progression of the fire has been stopped,” Hampton said.

The smoky sky in Boise, however, isn't from those two nearby fires - it's mainly from the 475,000-acre Long Draw fire about 160 miles southwest of Boise in east-central Oregon, 10 miles west of the town of Basque, Ore. That fire is 30 percent contained, with a Type 1 incident management team on it and about 300 firefighters working to fight the flames; no structures are threatened and it's burning mainly in grass and sage.

There's also the Stout fire 14 miles north of Hammett, about 60 miles east of Boise. “That fire is also impacting Boise with smoke,” Hampton said. “There are just so many fires around Boise geographically that everything is impacting Boise. We just don't have very much air movement, so it's somewhat sitting in the valley here.” Continued relatively stagnant air is forecast in the valley today, but Hampton said firefighters are bracing because more lightning - the cause of most of the wildfires - is predicted for the weekend.

Boise choking on wildfire smoke…

Boise is choking on smoke this morning from the numerous wildfires, including one in the Boise foothills just east of town near Aldape Summit. The Stone fire ignited this morning between 8th Street and Rocky Canyon road; Shaw Mountain Road is closed due to the fire, as are numerous Boise foothills trails. The city of Boise sent out this trail closure advisory this morning:

A wildfire ignited this morning near Aldape Summit in Rocky Canyon. As such, Rocky Canyon Road is currently closed, and trail users will likely be turned around by fire crews on 3 Bears Trail #26, Femrite's Patrol #6, 8th Street Motorcycle Trail #4 and Watchman Trail #2. Shane's Trail #26A, 5-Mile Gulch Trail #2 and Orchard Gulch Trail #7 will not be accessible from their trailheads on Rocky Canyon Road. Please avoid using this area until further notice.

There are numerous other wildfires burning in southwestern Idaho, including one near the junction of Grimes Creek Road and State Highway 21 in Boise County that's threatening homes; one that closed I-84 south of Boise for hours yesterday and spread to 2,000 acres after it was ignited by a car crash; and the now-contained 25,000-acre Benwalk fire north of Mountain Home that ignited Monday. Click below for a complete update on Southwest idaho fires from the Idaho office of the BLM.

Top federal officials on fire season: Get ready

The wildfire season has barely begun, and already hundreds of homes have burned in Colorado and 66 homes in southern Idaho were destroyed over the weekend. The U.S. secretaries of homeland security and agriculture came to Boise on Tuesday to check in with national fire managers, after a stop in Colorado to inspect damage, and they brought a message: Get ready. The fire season spreads from south to north, and the damage already seen in the southern parts of the west will be spreading to the northern parts of the Rocky Mountain west.

“Everyone should be concerned, everybody should be preparing, preparing as best we can,” said Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary and former governor of Arizona. “It does portend to be a long, hot fire season in the West. We've had them before, we'll have them again. This one has gotten off to a particularly tough start.” She urged property owners to clear combustible materials away from structures and create “defensible space” around homes. “What we saw in Colorado was … when defensible space is created, our firefighters have a much better chance of saving a home or a business,” she said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed that. “We did see today a circumstance where a home was completely obliterated, and next to it there were two homes that weren't touched.” Said Napolitano, “We have an opportunity now as we start seeing some rains and moisture coming into the southern part of the West, to help those in the northern part get ready.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Rifle practice with illegal exploding targets blamed for four wildfires

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Exploding targets may go off with a satisfying bang, but federal land managers say they're behind a spate of human-caused wildfires in Idaho. The Boise District Bureau of Land Management said on Wednesday it has investigated 19 human-caused fires this season and suspect that four have been ignited by exploding targets. The targets are popular for rifle practice, because they scatter incendiary materials for several feet after they've been hit by bullets. But in combination with dry grass, they can become the culprit behind fast-moving range fires. What's more, they're illegal during the wildfire months between May 10 and Oct. 10 on territory managed by the BLM, Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands. Violators face jail time, up to $100,000 in fines ― and possible firefighting costs, if caught.
  

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About this blog

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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