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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

As costs mount, state’s fire season still isn’t over…

Although the Walker Fire east of Boise is now 100 percent contained, Idaho still hasn’t had a “season-ending event” – a sustained and wet enough storm to put an end to the fire season – state Forester David Groeschl told the state Land Board this morning. “I wish I could tell you that this was the last fire season update, but we have not yet had a season-ending event,” Groeschl said. “As you could tell with the smoke in the air last week and the Walker Fire we had just southwest of Idaho City, we still have conditions, we have not yet had enough moisture to put an end to this fire season.”

The Walker Fire burned 6,000 acres, Groschl said, and is officially 100 percent contained as of this morning. “That fire is at $4.5 million cost right now,” he said. “By the time that fire is completely called out, it will likely be $4.7 million to $4.8 million.”

There’s no reimbursement due from federal agencies to help with the cost on that fire, Groeschl said in response to questions from Gov. Butch Otter and other Land Board members. However, if the person responsible for starting the fire is identified and there’s a finding of negligence, the state will bill the responsible party. “The negligent party would be then liable for the total cost of that fire,” Groeschl said.

“That fire is currently under investigation – that’s about all I can say right now. We expect the investigation to be wrapped up within the next month,” Groeschl said. “Once we finalize the investigation and determine both the cause and the origin, which we are zeroing in on, we will make that determination and communicate to the board.”

The Land Board also has an executive session scheduled this morning to address possible litigation over two other fires – the Cape Horn Fire in North Idaho and the Municipal Fire in north-central Idaho, which could include attempts to recover costs.

This year’s fire season has cost the state nearly $73 million so far, Groeschl reported, with reimbursables from other agencies at $17.9, for a net obligation to the state of about $55 million. “Typically we start to see season-ending events in late September,” he said, “but more and more, we’re pushing into October.” This year’s fire season also started early, in March. And current long-range forecasts are calling for similar conditions next year, he said, with unusually dry conditions in North Idaho forests.

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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