MOUNTAIN HOME -- Fire season is already underway in southwest Idaho, but firefighters aren't the only professionals ready to do battle with flames.
Ranchers are now officially part of the fight against wildland fires.
The move comes after a 2012-2013 law passed by the Idaho State Legislature that allowed ranchers to create Rangeland Fire Protection Associations.
RANCHERS TYPICALLY FIRST ON SCENE
In August 2008, the Oregon Trail Fire ignited near Mountain Home. Its flames destroyed homes and ranches, including the 80,000-acre ranch belonging to Charles Lyons.
Now, Lyons is helping to turn ranchers into firefighters. He's one of the founding members of the Mountain Home Rangleland Fire Protection Association
Rangleland Fire Protection Associations, or RFPAs, are organizations that train and equip ranchers to respond to wildfires, often very near their land.
"Lots of time, we're maybe the first responders -- we'll be the first ones there," Lyons told KTVB.
Lyons said before the Mountain Home RFPA was created, firefighters would actually ask ranchers to leave the fire lines.
"They would try to catch us and get us home, and we would try to work as hard and fast as we could, and it became unsafe and contentious," Lyons said. "... We didn't like to go home. We wanted the thing out."
FIRE PROTECTION INCREASES
Last year was the first fire season for the ranchers of the Mountain Home RFPA.
New for 2013, three more RFPAs have formed after legislation passed during the 2012-2013 legislative session. The reason for that is a change in politics and funding.
"Governor Otter and the Idaho legislature approved a bill that would clarify how Rangeland Fire Protection Associations are formed," said Emily Callihan with the Idaho Department of Lands. "Along with that, there was a one-time funding increase for start-up costs to help create Rangeland Fire Protection Associations."
Lyons thinks creating more RFPAs is smart, especially after experiencing what he calls "devastating" fires on his land. He also said his new RFPA crew still has a lot to learn, but says that forming the RFPA improved ranchers' relationships with area firefighters.
"It's been very cordial, and I think a lot of it had to do with trust issues," Lyons said. "We got to know these guys; they got to know us. We look for them for encouragement, and then they also look to us for guidance, because a lot of us -- we know the land -- but they know the firefighting techniques."
Lyons and other members of the Mountain Home RFPA said local firefighting agencies have been integral in making RFPAs work. Since the RFPA was formally created, Lyons said they have worked well with agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and others out on the firelines.
In addition to funding from the state legislature, the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Idaho Department of Lands also gave money to help start the new Rangleland Fire Protection Associations.
The Mountain Home Rangleland Fire Protection Association includes 9 ranches and 15 members.