Forecasters predict major fire danger in Idaho's mountains

Credit: Bureau of Land Management

Flames from the Halstead Fire consume a large swath of the Sawtooth National Forest last July.

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by Scott Evans and KTVB.COM

Bio | Email | Follow: @ScottEvansKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 12 at 9:04 AM

BOISE – It's early June and fire season is already underway in Idaho.

The destructive flames have arrived a little earlier this year, and that's got some fire forecasters concerned.

Experts say southwest Idaho's fire season is about four to six weeks ahead of schedule due to 2013's dry spring. In fact, the Boise Bureau of Land Management has already fought 25 wildfires this year.

The last major wildfire struck earlier this week near Buhl. The Sinking Canyon Fire has burned about 283 acres and is contained, but still active.

Compared to 2012, this year's fire outlook in lower elevations is predicted to be much less active. However, fire danger in the mountains and forests could be much worse.

That means you can expect flames, fire crews, helicopters, and thick smoke to become the norm once again.

BIG FIRES PREDICTED AT ELEVATION

Bob Shindelar with the Boise National Forest says there will likely be some big fires in the mountains this summer.

"I'm very much concerned about going into this fire season," said Shindelar. "We saw what last year's fire season did to Idaho. Right now, we are set up to have potentially a worse fire season than last year."

Ed Delgado is the National Predictive Services Manager for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Delgado says the mountains are a big concern.

"They're coming into their third year of really dry conditions,” said Delgado. “Even though we had a relatively good snowpack across most of Idaho this year, it hasn't made up the deficit we've seen in the past."

DESERTS AND RANGELAND MUCH SAFER

It's a different story in Idaho's deserts and rangeland.

"At least in the lower elevations, the grass and brush lands, we're not going to see the kind of fire season we had last year," said Delgado.

When you look at total acres burned, Delgado does not expect 2013 to be as bad as 2012.

"We're going to see fire, people need to be aware of that and they need to be vigilant and they need to take care when they're in the wilderness," said Delgado.

Like every year, that's a reality. Summer temperatures get hotter, fuels get dryer and more people are out on the road.

HUMAN-CAUSED FIRES ALREADY ON THE RISE

With 90 percent of the fires nationwide and two-thirds of fires in Idaho being human caused, Delgado and Shindelar remind all of us to be careful.

"All we can do is continue to keep it at the forefront of everybody's mind, especially going into this year, of how important it is to not only provide protection for their own properties, but it's also the taxpayers. We will all pay for these fires," said Shindelar.

Of the 25 fires BLM has fought so far this fire season, only one of those was lightning caused, the rest human caused.

Also, the Boise National Forest is taking a new approach this year in fighting fires. It will increase the number of firefighters and equipment on the initial attack.

The hope is to suppress the fires sooner to keep them from spreading and more difficult to contain.

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