BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor Brad Little says Idaho has been fortunate not to suffer the kind of massive wildfires that surrounding states have dealt with in recent years, but added that now was "absolutely the right time" to call in the aid of the National Guard in the fight against wildfires.
The first-term Republican governor made the comments during a press conference at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Tuesday afternoon.
"The percent of the West that's under extreme drought, extreme dry conditions, is almost unheard," Little said.
On Friday, Little issued an emergency declaration that activated some Idaho National Guard members to help fight the wildfires across the Gem State.
Little said on Tuesday that he hoped he wouldn't have to make the declaration but had to due to the "complexities of these fires" and "we figured it was absolutely the right time to do that."
The Idaho Department of Lands requested an emergency declaration for the first time and started working with the Idaho National Guard prior to the announcement.
IDL director Dustin Miller outlined what Little's emergency declaration means.
"Suppression resources across the West are already stretched thin on lands under the protection of the Idaho Department of Lands and other agencies," he said.
Miller pointed to an early fire season why fire resources are now scarce.
Little said resources and manpower to fight fires are strained across the region, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's just like everything else after this pandemic, all of these supply issues kind of get exacerbated but if there's anything the state can do, we'll do it," Little said.
In a statement, the governor said he's grateful that Idaho guardsmen are available to step in and help Idaho's communities.
"Wildfire is presenting an imminent threat to life, property, and the environment, and we need all hands on deck. I appreciate our firefighters and fire managers for working so hard under such challenging conditions," he said in a statement.
Little said the guardsmen will mostly help with the logistics behind the scenes and about 20 of them will join fire line crews.
He said his biggest fear this fire season is "one of these great, big mega-fires that start creating their own weather" and threaten the lives of residents, firefighters and wildlife.
Currently, about one-third of the Gem State is under severe drought conditions and about 80% is experiencing between moderate to exceptional drought conditions.
Josh Harvey, the fire chief for the IDL, said the state is at fire readiness level five, out of five levels. Nationally, the country is at a fire readiness level four.
He added that the state's current dry conditions are more akin to what Idaho would see in August. The extended high temperatures and lack of spring moisture is making the plant life in those areas very dry.
"When the citizens of Idaho are playing out in the woods or working in the woods, please use extreme caution," Harvey said. "Think before you do. Know before you act. If you want to protect our firefighters and take care of your neighbors, be extremely careful."
Six counties in North Idaho are now under Stage 2 fire restrictions until further notice in order to curb the number of human-caused wildfires.
When he signed the emergency declaration, Little said he anticipated the whole state being under Stage 2 fire restrictions in the coming days. He urged Idahoans to do what they can to prevent wildfires and respect fire restrictions.
"We want the people of Idaho to know how important it is for them to do their prevention and to comply with these closures by these land managers," he said.
Later on Tuesday, it was announced that the Boise and Payette fire restriction areas will now implement Stage 1 fire protections on Friday, July 16 at midnight. The restrictions also include lands in the Payette and Boise national forests.
Stage 1 restrictions ban the use and building of fires outside of designated pits at recreational sites, and smoking, except for while smoking inside a car or a building or when three feet away from flammable materials.
The land that now has Stage 1 restrictions includes private and public property, which is overseen by either the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, United States Forest Service, Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association and the Idaho Department of Lands.
During Tuesday's press conference, the Bureau of Land Management assistant director said two wildland Idaho firefighters died over the weekend. They said the Idahoans died in Arizona while fighting a fire on BLM land.
For a full list and map of wildfires burning in Idaho and Oregon, click here.