By Keith Ridler, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Fire officials say quick responses by ranchers and others in Idaho to more than 20 wildfires sparked by lightning have kept the small fires from becoming major blazes like those that scorched the region in recent decades.
About 10 wildfires remained active Wednesday in grass and brush in southern Idaho, with one of the largest just north of the Utah border.
The 6-square-mile (16-sq. kilometer) blaze temporarily closed Interstate 84 on Tuesday but traffic resumed a few hours later.
"The fire jumped into the median," Idaho State Police spokesman Tim Marsano said.
The fire was burning about 11 miles (18 kilometers) from Grandview and was expected to be controlled later Wednesday.
Crews stopped the fire from advancing and were trying to put out areas still burning or smoldering within its perimeter, officials said.
The fire has been burning in important sage grouse habitat so keeping it keeping it contained has been a priority, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said.
The ground-dwelling sage grouse, known for its elaborate mating ritual, range across a 257,000-square-mile region spanning 11 states. It's lost roughly half its habitat to development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires.
In Idaho, officials concerned about wildfires have formed rangeland fire protection associations comprised of ranchers who receive firefighting training and some equipment. The agreements appear to be a main reason enough resources were available to fight the current blazes.
Rancher Charlie Lyons and his son, Henry Lyons, helped cut fire lines near Mountain Home as members of the Mountain Home RFPA.
Charlie Lyons said the initial attack on some of the fires was mostly by ranchers until BLM forces arrived after dealing with other wildfires.
"Five years ago, those fires would have been a completely different scenario," Lyons said about the fires faced by his group. "We were very fortunate."
Along with protecting grazing land, the work protects habitat for wildlife, including sage grouse, he added.
Jared Jablonski, BLM spokesman in southwest Idaho, said the ranchers played a key role.
"It was a huge effort for us and all of our cooperators to staff all of those fires at one time," he said.