PUBLIC LANDS -- "We were sitting pretty good a couple of weeks ago, but there's been marked increase in field dryness," said Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandle National Forest public affairs officer, getting word out that potential for forest fires have changed remarkably in just the past week.
"Monitoring stations in the North Fork Coeur d'Alene, near St. Maries and in the Selkirks are registering in the top 3 percent of dryness ever recorded."
Forest Service plans for annual fall controlled burns to improve wildlife habitat and clear out forest understory to reduce fire danger next year are on hold until conditions are less volatile, he said.
"Even if it wasn't so dry in the Panhandle, the smoke that's moved into the region would be enough to put off our controlled burning plans because of air quality requirements," he said.
"At least the smoke is a good reminder that there are fires all around us. We haven't had any significant fires, but we're not out of the woods yet."