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Crapo teams up with Colorado senator on wildfire-prevention funding amendment

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet today filed legislation to launch a five-year, up to $30 million wildfire mitigation pilot project, to be carried out by FEMA in consultation with the Forest Service, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate. The two senators introduced the bill in August; it’s considered deficit-neutral, as it taps FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund for competitive grants to state and local officials for wildfire preparedness and mitigation projects. Those state and local agencies would have to provide matching funds; the projects could occur on federal, state or private land.

 “Instead of waiting until more towns are evacuated, homes threatened and our firefighters lives put at risk, the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to pass the PREPARE Act amendment to help states like Idaho reduce and prevent catastrophic fires,” Crapo said in a statement. Bennet said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  By directing more resources toward fire mitigation on the front end, we can not only help prevent and reduce the severity of future disasters, we can also save millions of dollars in recovery costs in the long-run.” You can read the two senators’ full announcement here.

Fire closures causing hassles for Idaho hunters

HUNTING — Check ahead before heading out hiking or hunting in central and southern Idaho.

Closure of federal lands in Idaho snarls hunting plans
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have closed public access to thousands of acres in Idaho burned by this summer's wildfires, and now the state is scrambling to notify hunters that their hunts won't take place as planned.

—Twin Falls Times-News

Fires restricting public access; check before you go

PUBLIC LANDS – Wildfires scattered throughout the northwest are affecting access to niches of national forests and other lands the public normally has access to for hunting, fishing, camping, berry picking and other late-summer pursuits.

Glacier and Yellowstone Parks have had to close sections of road briefly because of fires.

Near Priest Lake, the road to Lookout Mountain was closed for a couple of days  recently and reopened as State Lands crews fought a small fire.

Huge areas of central and southern Idaho are closed by major forest fires as sportsmen plan their early-season hunts.

Most fires and restrictions can be tracked online at www.InciWeb.com.

Otherwise, call local ranger district offices for updates.

Firefighters storm Marie Creek blaze near Wolf Lodge

PUBLIC LANDS — Forest Service firefighters are continue to attack a four-acre wildfire today just east of Coeur d’Alene near Wolf Lodge, says Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokesman.

The fire is along Marie Creek, which includes a popular hiking trail two and a half miles north of I-90 and five miles east of the Wolf Lodge exit.

Smoke and firefighting aircraft may be visible from the interstate. 

The Marie Creek Fire is lightning caused and was first noted as a one-acre fire late Sunday night, Kirchner said.

Firefighters, including helicopters, Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) and ground crews, spent Monday constructing fire line and dropping retardant to slow and contain the blaze. Firefighting actions today will include additional fire line construction, and water and retardant drops.

Firefighting efforts are complicated by the difficult terrain, he said.

“The closest private property is located more than a mile to the west, but at this time there are no threats to structures.”

Further updates for this wildfire will be posted at www.inciweb.org

Parting Shot: Fires slowed by favorable winds

Firefighters start a back burn along Pine-Featherville Road while battling the more than 140-square-mile Elk Complex fire near Pine on Monday.

BOISE – Fire crews in central Idaho capitalized on favorable winds Tuesday to continue burnout operations around a small mountain community, seeking to push a wildfire toward an area torched by a massive blaze last year.

Ludie Bond, a spokeswoman on the lightning-caused Elk Complex wildfire burning on more than 140 square miles near Pine, said burnout efforts that began Monday evening worked just as planned: consuming dry, flammable vegetation as the wildfire stayed higher on the ridgeline above town. Full story.

 

Colockum Tarps Fire threatens elk winter range

HUNTING — The wildfire — considred human-caused — that's already burned 80,000 acres near Ellensburg, is scorching the winter range of one of the state's most important elk herds.

The extent of the impacts is yet unknown, but the Colockum herd almost surely will be impacted this winter.  Beyond that, there's room for hope that the fire could be a net gain.  Assessments will come after the fire's out.

Read details in this story by Scott Sandsberry of the  Yakima Herald-Republic.

Wildfire closes several trails in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The 30 acre lightning-caused Granite Mountain Fire, burning 19 miles west of Leavenworth, as prompted trail and area closures around Klonaqua Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, U.S. Forest Service officials said today in a media release.

These closures have been enacted for public and firefighter safety.

An area of about 7 square miles is closed to public entry around the fire zone. 

Trail closures in this area include Klonaqua Lakes Trail No. 1563 and French Creek Trail No. 1595 from its intersection with Snowall Creek Trail No. 1560 to its intersection with Paddy-Go-Easy Trail. 

Signs advising recreationists of the fire and area and trail closures will be posted at trailheads leading into the closed area.

The smell and haze of smoke may be noticeable in the Icicle drainage and also in the town of Leavenworth depending upon weather conditions and wind direction.  Fire managers do not anticipate that smoke will affect any tourism activities in and around Leavenworth.

The fire was started by a lightning storm that passed through North Central Washington on Sunday, August 4.

Forest fires alter hiking options in wilderness

HIKING — With the wildfire season kicking into high gear, be sure to call ahead before leaving on a backcountry trip — and have an alternate plan even if you get a green light.

Jim Czirr of Spokane sent in this report after returning from a trek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness:

I just got back from the Bob Marshalls where I was hiking the last several days.  My brother in law and I were the last ones to slip down Red Shale Meadows trail before they closed it due to the forest fires up there. 

The attached photos were taken Saturday PM around 3 or 4 PM Mountain time near the Red Shale fire.  The fire was a few hundred yards from the trail.

We did the section of the CDT from Lake Levale to Red Shale.  Went in Route Pass and out Headquarters, a nice 50 mile loop or so entering the wilderness outside of Choteau.

Fire closes Clark Fork River near Superior

FISHING — The Clark Fork River has been closed from Big Eddy Fishing Access Site to Dry Creek Fishing Access Site along Interstate 90 because of operations related to fighting a wildfire northwest of Superior, Mont., the state Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department has announced. 

This is one of the more popular stretches among fly fishers who float the river to catch trout.

This section of river is closed in the interest of public safety while aircraft dip water out of the river to fight the West Mullan Fire.  This stretch will remain closed as long as fire activities continue.

Click here for updates.

BooBoo has another cub for company, and claws intact, climbs tree easily…

There's more good news for BooBoo the bear, the cub who was rescued after his paws were burned in an Idaho wildfire. The Associated Press reports that at the McCall-area rehab facility where BooBoo was moved Friday, he has the company of another cub and the run of a 2-acre wooded enclosure. Linda DeEulis, director of the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary, initially was worried about the bear's claws and his ability to climb, but those concerns were quickly put to rest. “He's doing fine - the first thing he did was run up a tree,” she told the AP. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Good news bear: BooBoo heading back to the woods

There's good news on the bear front: BooBoo is heading back to the woods. Idaho Fish & Game reported today that the injured bear cub, who was rescued by firefighters after he was found clinging to a tree with four badly burned paws amid the Mustang Complex wildfire, left the Idaho Humane Society shelter in Boise where he was recuperating, en route to a wildlife sanctuary in the mountains outside McCall. There, he'll have the run of a two-acre enclosure of forest, and if he continues to heal well, he could be released to the wild, possibly as soon as later this fall.

The bear cub's weight has doubled since he was rescued, from 23 pounds to 46 pounds, and as this photo shows, he's looking much heartier. Click below for the full announcement from Idaho Fish & Game.

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.

Air quality moves into unhealthy range, outdoor k.d. lang concert canceled

The Treasure Valley's air quality has gotten so bad - with an orange air quality alert issued by the state DEQ - that tonight's scheduled k.d. lang concert at the Eagle River Pavilion has been canceled. CTTouring announced the cancellation “due to the poor air quality in the Treasure Valley and the DEQ orange air quality alert suggesting that people stay inside;” click below for their full announcement. The DEQ has posted tips here for people to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. Yesterday's air quality index of 104 and today's predicted level of 110 both fall into the orange, or unhealthy, range. Children and people with asthma are considered to be most at risk; all outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties.

Wildfire in Goldendale

AP photo

OLYMPIA — Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn't the only governor that has to worry about wildfires. Washington state is battling a fire in the Goldendale area which drew both Gov. Chris Gregoire and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark for a look-see on Thursday.

The Monastery Complex fire has forced some evacuations, has some 500 firefighters on the ground and as of this morning was not yet contained.

Crews trying to get handle on western wildfires

PUBLIC LANDS —  Fire crews dug in to gain control over some of the largest wildfires in the West Friday, taking advantage of a break in the weather before hot temperatures and gusty winds return over the weekend.

However, a Wednesday thunderstorm started 18 new fires in the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forests of Idaho.

Almost 3,000 firefighters are working dozens of blazes that flared up in recent days in forests and shrubland in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon. Active fires in those states have scorched almost 175,000 acres. That’s about 270 square miles.

Read on for more details from the Associated Press and staff reports; click here for information on large fires around the nation.

Volunteer firefighter convicted of arson

A former volunteer firefighter from Parma is headed to federal prison for six years, for six felony counts of setting fires on public land. Clyde Dewayne Holmes Jr., 23, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill to 72 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, plus more than $155,000 in restitution. A jury found Holmes guilty of arson in January; it’s the first federal jury trial, conviction and sentencing of an arsonist on BLM land in Idaho.

The six different fires he set, in July and August of 2007, all were ignited shortly after he got off work; during his trial, physical evidence including tire and boot prints, cell phone records and eyewitness accounts tied him to the fires, which burned 1,200 acres of public and private lands in Payette and Canyon counties. Holmes himself reported two of the blazes, though he didn’t identify himself when he called them in. “This case is especially reprehensible because it involved a deliberate action by a person who was trained and trusted to protect our public lands and our citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Tom Moss.