MOUNTAIN HOME -- It's been a busy, destructive fire season and firefighters have needed all the help they could get. Help is exactly what they got from a group of ranchers near Mountain Home.

Some of us have been here generations and we felt it was critical that we protect this resource, said rancher Charlie Lyons.

Lyons is one of 14 ranchers who are part of the Rangeland Fire Protection Association, north of Mountain Home.

We've been fighting fires on these rangelands actually before BLM ever existed, said Lyons.

Ranchers are often the first to arrive on range fires, want to help, and have the equipment to help (like bulldozers, tractors, and water tenders). But the Bureau of Land Management says they can become a liability.

If you get 14 people as individuals that just show up out there, it's very hard to plug them in, said Andy Delmas, a BLM fire management officer. They're not trained, they don't have communications, and you're worried about their safety.

That's why Lyons and the other ranchers in the area formed the RFPA before this fire season, trained with the BLM, and received communications equipment.

They're a recognized formal entity. We can work with them like we do other fire departments, said Delmas. It's a much safer, efficient organization.

Delmas says that organization was on display in July for the Stout Fire. While the fire did burn 12,000 acres, BLM officials say it could've much worse if not for the work and knowledge of the RFPA.

They used a couple ranchers to find water sources and roads to access the fire, said Lyons.

They're there rapidly. They know the area. They have a vested interest and they really want to help, said Delmas. I think it's a good program. I'm impressed by the amount of effort those guys put in and they've really worked hard to make it a viable organization.

While the ranchers use some of their own equipment, the Department of Lands did provide them with a fire engine, radios, and other fire gear. Lyons says he hopes ranchers in rural areas across the state put together their own rangeland fire protection agencies.

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