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How the Gem State is fighting fire with fire

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 17:42:08-04

MAGIC VALLEY — Experts have been warning of wildfires starting early this year, mainly due to below-average precipitation, especially in April.

But the Gem State is trying something a little different this year to help reduce the risk of severe wildfires: a prescribed fire council.

“Prescribed fire is a very powerful tool and one that when used properly can do some pretty amazing work for our landscapes and it is not a single person sport," said Heather Heward, chair of the Idaho Prescribed Fire Council.

The Idaho Prescribed Fire Council is an organization that consists of members from BLM, Nez Perce Tribe, Department of Lands, and other organizations collaborating on ideas on how to use prescribed fires to help reduce the risk of severe wildfires.

"That's the cool thing about prescribed fire in a wildfire you can't choose, it's just happening, it's here we are going to deal with what we got. but with a prescribed fire you have more of a flexibility to say what are the conditions that have occurred in the past that have led to the best outcome on our site," Heward said.

Prescribed fires help reduce vegetation in areas where material may pile up and cause wildfires to become more severe. By reducing that vegetation in certain areas, if a wildfire were to occur it won't be as severe because it won't have as much material to burn.

“One of the powerful tools about prescribed fires is that when you can treat certain areas those areas become areas where you now have an opportunity to reduce fire behavior," Heward said.

Planning these prescribed fires also includes picking the right day, and making sure weather conditions are perfect.

“When you are picking a good day to burn you are picking days that have more of an unstable atmosphere so more lift. And also you have got good high transport winds, so those winds are going in one direction. Now the catch is a good smoke day is also generally a good fire growth day," Heward said.

This is why when planning these prescribed fires, they have to proceed with caution. One of the biggest obstacles they face is liability since some of these prescribed fires are done on private property.

“I’m not going to say that prescribed fire is the answer all the time because it isn’t, but you do need a good practitioner just like you need a good doctor to say when this could be a good tool for you," Heward said.

But although it can be a risk, the organization still plans to use prescribed fires throughout the Gem State, not only to help reduce the risk of wildfires but also to help certain species survive.

“Over time they’ve had a lot of fires and the animals and plants that live there have evolved to thrive in those fire situations, and when you take fire out they don’t thrive. So by putting it back in, they can start to thrive again and do well," Heward said.