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Wildfire smoke expected to increase in southern Idaho over next two days

Looking ahead at the 2023 wildfire season.

IDAHO, USA — You may have noticed the skies are looking a little hazy around the Southern Idaho area. Wildfire smoke is moving south from Canada and Western Montana. 

The fire activity in southern Canada is especially notable. According to NASA,  as of yesterday, fires have already burned 10 times the average area for this time of year.

Smoke is forecasted to increase over the next two days, however, this will mainly be suspended in the upper levels of the atmosphere.

Air quality is listed as "moderate" across Southern Idaho, according to the National Weather Service air quality forecast. This means people sensitive to air quality should consider reducing activity outdoors. 

Wildfire season will also inevitably start in these warmer months.

Josh Harvey is the Chief of Fire Management for Idaho Department of Lands. Harvey says this water year, North Idaho got less than 50% of the moisture they normally do, while moisture in areas to the South got about 150%.

"So the Southern part of the state did very well on their snowpack," Harvey said. "That's just kind of one of the factors that we look at as we head into the fire season really dictates green up and the amount of fuel that is going to be available later on in the summer for burning."

"Green up" is a term that fire officials use to describe when new plant growth is starting. Harvey said typically that happens between April and May. It's one of the early indicators of when fire season might start.

Harvey added North Idaho may be looking at an earlier fire season, as fuels dry up this spring. "We're kind of anticipating that's probably where some of the focus will be early on in the season." 

"As we get a little bit later into the season," Harvey said, "The amount of moisture that the Southern part of the state received this winter really tells us to expect like a lot of grass growth a lot a lot of green up, it's probably going to lend itself towards pretty heavy fuel loadings."

Harvey said in the summer when it's hot and dry, the grasses dry out and leave behind lots of fuel.

"So that for us is a potential "watch out" situations keep this area on the priority list is a place that could potentially look at some big fire growth later on in the summer," Harvey said.

So far, the Idaho Department of Lands has responded to 43 fires this year, 38 of those were caused by people. Only 207 acres burned in those fires, likely limited by the wetter conditions.

"The biggest variable really is the human cost of fires. And that's something that we always struggle with," Harvey said. "There's a major impact out in the urban interface that people have moved out into the woods and things happen, right? You know, most of it's preventable, but those, those preventable fires tend to be pretty devastating. And it's always a point of concern for us."

Prescribed fires are one of the ways officials curb fire activity. The Idaho Bureau of Land Management said they've done five prescribed fires so far this year. Four of those have been within the Boise District, which encompasses much of Southwest Idaho.

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