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Eye On Boise

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

From left, BLM Director Robert Abbey, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson learn about how smokejumpers' parachutes are packed from Hector Madrid, base manager for BLM smokejumpers at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. The officials toured the center Thursday and got a briefing on the upcoming wildfire season. (Betsy Russell)
From left, BLM Director Robert Abbey, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson learn about how smokejumpers' parachutes are packed from Hector Madrid, base manager for BLM smokejumpers at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. The officials toured the center Thursday and got a briefing on the upcoming wildfire season. (Betsy Russell)

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.

Date:  April 28, 2011
      Secretary Salazar, Director Abbey Join Congressman Simpson in
          Emphasizing Safety, Preparedness for 2011 Fire Season

           Officials get firsthand look at national fire center
                       and smokejumper base in Boise

 BOISE, Idaho – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land
 Management Director Bob Abbey today joined Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson
 at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) to discuss federal
 firefighting assistance to Texas, where several large wildfires are
 burning; safety and preparedness for the current fire season; and a
 national strategy to address the mounting risks of wildfire around the

 “Though the last two fire seasons saw fewer wildfires than typical, the
 2011 season has started early in Texas and could pose major challenges in
 the Southern, Southwest and Rocky Mountain areas due to dry weather and
 fuel conditions,” Secretary Salazar said. “Public and firefighter safety
 is always the top priority in managing wildland fires and adequate
 training and timely mobilization of personnel and equipment are vitally

 “I am pleased that Secretary Salazar and Director Abbey chose to come to
 Idaho and see firsthand how the National Interagency Fire Center plays a
 critical role in fighting our nation’s wildland fires. The men and women
 who put their lives in harm’s way depend on the sophisticated coordination
 that NIFC provides,” said Representative Simpson, who is chairman of the
 House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment.

 Wind-driven wildfires burning across central and west Texas have caused
 the deaths of two volunteer firefighters, destroyed about 400 homes and
 scorched more than a million acres. NIFC, the nation's support center for
 wildland firefighting, is coordinating interagency assistance to the
 state, dispatching to date about 1,400 firefighters, 700 support staffers,
 117 fire engines, 32 dozers, 26 helicopters, 15 fixed wing aircraft and
 two airtankers. Salazar, Abbey and Simpson expressed their condolences to
 the families of the Texas wildfire victims.

 Salazar also met with NIFC fire directors to discuss the 2011 western fire
 season outlook, which shows the potential for active burning conditions if
 several weather factors align.  Hot weather, dry fuel accumulations and
 widespread dry lighting, accompanied by steady winds, could create a
 challenging fire season in some regions.  Nationally, wildfires have
 burned about 2.2 million acres in 2011 -- double the 10-year national
 average for this time of year.

 Federal firefighting agencies are ready to vigorously respond to this
 year’s wildfires, coordinating their efforts through NIFC.  Federal fire
 resources are estimated to include about 14,000 firefighters; 750 fire
 engines; more than 200 helicopters; about 70 single-engine airtankers; and
 up to 19 heavy airtankers.

 Salazar, Abbey and Simpson also discussed the progress of a Cohesive
 Wildfire Management Strategy to address the increasing risks of wildland
 fire and to ensure community safety and the restoration of ecosystems for
 all Americans.

 “The challenges of wildland fire are growing with millions of acres across
 the country at risk due to overcrowded stands of trees, insect
 infestations, and invasions of non-native species,” BLM Director Abbey
 said. “A century of fire exclusion, the advent of climate change and the
 growth of the urban-wilderness interface have led to this critical
 situation, calling for a coordinated national strategy among all

 Developed by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, an intergovernmental
 body of federal, state, tribal and municipal representatives, the strategy
 focuses on restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes; creating
 fire-adapted communities; and responding to wildfire.  This collaborative
 approach would leverage the assets and expertise of partners to get more
 done on the ground and require an all-hands approach across boundaries and

 In the morning, Secretary Salazar also met with Idaho Governor C.L.
 “Butch” Otter to explore how the Department of the Interior and Idaho can
 work together to advance the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great
 Outdoors initiative to support local conservation and recreation efforts.

 The meeting was one of a series that Salazar is holding with the nation’s
 governors to discuss potential partnerships in their states, ranging from
 revitalizing urban parks to restoring rivers to using conservation
 easements in rural areas to conserve wildlife habitat while allowing
 ranching and farming to continue.

 As part of their visit, Salazar, Simpson and Abbey also joined a
 smokejumpers’ training flight to observe these highly skilled firefighters
 in action.

 NIFC, located in Boise, coordinates the firefighting resources and efforts
 of several different agencies and organizations: Interior’s Bureau of Land
 Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and
 Wildlife Service and National Business Center Aviation Management; the
 Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service; NOAA’s National Weather
 Service; the National Association of State Foresters; and the U.S. Fire

 For more information about the 2011 fire season, fire safety, and tips for
 homeowners, please visit

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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