National fire council learning from Idaho about firefighting tactics

The council is looking at ways to reduce the threat of wildfires.

In Idaho, fires are something we deal with on a yearly basis, that's why a national fire council has chosen the Gem State to look for ways to better fight those fires. The Wildland Fire Leadership Council is made up of over a dozen agencies, all of which have some sort of influence in the way we fight fires.

The council looks at ways we can recover those landscapes burned by fires, the health and safety of firefighters and communities, and how we can make communities more resilient in the event of a wildland fire.

On Wednesday, the council got a firsthand look at how Idaho is restoring the more than 420 square miles that were burnt in the Pony and Elk Complex fires back in 2013.

"We're actually learning a lot from Idaho about how to get things done to reduce the threat of fire in the first place. Restoration activities, improvement of rangeland conditions, fire breaks, all of those things," Robert Bonnie with the Department of Agriculture said.

While at the burn scar areas, the group looked at ways the Forest Service has been able to establish fuel breaks, the new techniques for rehabilitating burn scar areas and the different plant species being used.

"We spend a lot of time on the front end to see if we can reduce the threat of catastrophic fires," Bonnie said.

Bonnie believes we can help reduce that threat by declaring catastrophic fires as natural disasters. This would allow FEMA funds to be used to pay for those fires. It would also help eliminate fire borrowing, which occurs when the Forest Service takes funds away from other programs, like forest restoration, to pay for the costs of fighting fires. It's something Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are working to do.

"What we'd like to be able to do is obviously continue to fight fire, but we want to spend money on forest restoration, range restoration so we can reduce the threat of fires in the first place," Bonnie said.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council is in Boise to see and learn about the partnerships that have been formed here between federal and state agencies, local fire departments, and farmers and ranchers.

"One of the big messages from yesterday was really this idea that no one entity can do it alone, but if we're all combining resources, knowledge, skills, and the landscape we can have an impact and Idaho really kind of exemplifies that," Kris Sarri with the Department of Interior said.

It's a type of philosophy the council hopes to bring to other parts of the U.S.

"It's the farmers, the ranchers out on the landscape that see these fires first and can go out and address it so we can actually prevent a large scale fire. BLM's been trying to do a lot of work to actually support this effort," Sarri said.

On Friday, the council will take a tour of both the National Interagency Fire Center and the Pioneer Fire before heading back to Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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