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Posts tagged: NIFC

NIFC warns folks to keep unauthorized drones away from wildfires

The National Interagency Fire Center says folks flying unauthorized drones near wildfires are getting in firefighters’ way, and they’re asking the drone operators to cut it out. Unauthorized drones “could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground,” NIFC warns today. “They could also have midair collisions with airtankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in wildfire suppression missions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

There have been at least three instances this year of unauthorized drone flights near a wildfire zone in violation of temporary flight restrictions, which typically are imposed around wildfires and require permission from fire managers to enter the airspace. Some apparently were taking video or collecting data on the fires. But Aitor Bidaburu, chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at NIFC, said people shouldn’t fly drones near wildfires whether or not formal flight restrictions have been declared in effect. The presence of an unauthorized drone could prompt fire managers to suspend aerial suppression efforts until they’re sure it’s gone, disrupting firefighting, he said.

Anyone determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts could be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution.

NIFC firefighter in Boise commended for saving life during Beaver Creek Fire last August

A wildland firefighter and medical unit leader trainee on last year’s Beaver Creek Fire near Hailey has been awarded a Citation for Exemplary Action for saving the life of a crew member. “He joins a small and select group within the fire community ever to receive this award,” said John Segar, left, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Fire Management Branch chief.

Larry “Kaili” McCray, right, who works at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise as wildland fire medical standards program manager, was assigned to the fire last August when a fire camp crew member suffered a cardiac arrest. He administered chest compressions, applied an automated external defibrillator or AED, and ordered oxygen, coordinating his efforts with two other staffers at the scene from other agencies. Doctors who later cared for the victim said the moves saved the crew member’s life.

Since 1990, cardiac arrest has been the third-leading cause of wildland firefighter deaths, behind aircraft and vehicle accidents. In 2013, there were nine cardiac cases reported on wildland fires, six of them fatal. The three saves were attributed to the speedy and proper use of AED’s.

Budget cuts hit as ‘difficult’ fire season looms

With a “difficult” fire season looming, firefighters are facing budget cuts that will result in 500 fewer firefighters for the Forest Service alone and 50 fewer engines available, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this morning in a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “We’re going to be faced obviously with a difficult fire season, make no mistake about that,” he said. “The resources are limited. Our budgets have obviously been constrained.”

Other agencies also are facing cuts. New Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who toured NIFC yesterday and today, said, “We will fight the fires and we will do them safely, but the resources will go to suppression, which is not ideal. … What you’re not doing is putting the resources in place to thoughtfully manage the landscapes for the future.” That means things like replanting and efforts to reduce hazardous fuels will suffer. “If we have a really tough season, we … may bring in more contract resources,” Jewell said. “We’ll have to take it out of other parts of our budget which are also struggling. We may be making decisions in the short run to take care of fires but in the long run not setting ourselves up for success.”

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said if catastrophic fires are burning in August and sufficient resources aren’t available, he believes Congress would come through with emergency funding. Vilsack responded with a chuckle, “You get that down? Can you send that to me?

Vilsack said in addition to the 5 percent sequestration cut that the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture took, “Congress added on that another 2 percent.” Making those cuts this far into the fiscal year, he said, means they cut “in essence 15 percent of your remaining money.”

First NIFC outlook for upcoming wildfire season predicts above-normal risk

A pair of small but unseasonably early fires burning in California's wine country likely is a harbinger of a nasty summer fire season across the West, reports John Miller of the Associated Press. The first summer fire outlook for the upcoming season from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, issued today, suggests that a dry winter and predicted warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal in the West Coast states, the Southwest, and portions of Idaho and Montana. In the Northern Rockies including Idaho and Montana, fire danger is forecast at near normal through May and June, before escalating in July and August to above-normal potential. Click below for Miller's full report.

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.

Fire season outlook: Not bad here, not good down south…

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey joined Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson today for a tour of the National Interagency Fire Center, from which nationwide wildland firefighting operations are coordinated, and a briefing on this year's fire season. The verdict so far: It's looking grim for the southern tier of the United States, but not bad at all in the northern tier, where huge amounts of moisture promise to delay the start of the wildfire season well beyond normal.

In the Northwest, Salazar said, “We may not have as many fire threats as we have in other places.” However, Abbey cautioned, “It's one thing to make predictions in April. … A lot can change in a very short period of time.” Among the possibilities: The very moisture that's dampening fire risk now could promote so much growth in grasses and brush that come August or September, when that foliage dries out, fire risk could jump. “It's still important for individual homeowners to take responsibility for defensible space around their own homes,” Abbey said. “All of us have a responsibility.”

The nation already is seeing significant fire danger - and some major, active fires, including destructive and spreading blazes in Texas - in New Mexico, Texas, southern Colorado, Oklahoma, and southern Florida, Salazar said. Within 30 days, Abbey said, the risk will spread to Arizona, southern California and Nevada. Salazar called NIFC in Boise “the heartbeat of how we deal with fires” throughout the nation, and said Idaho's lucky to have it here. The multi-agency facility coordinates fire operations from smokejumper crews to aircraft to weather-forecasting services. “This truly is an example of how government should work,” Simpson said. “Many different agencies come together here and work in coordination.” Click below for a Department of Interior press release on the visit.

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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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