Local ranchers, farmers provide initial attack efforts during fire season

Posted at 5:13 PM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 19:13:20-04

This fire season, it's not just firefighters who are fighting flames, it's ranchers and farmers, too. Known as the Rangeland Fire Protection Association -- or RFPAs -- they're the not-so-secret weapon when it comes to protecting private land. 

Ranchers and farmers rely on the land for their livelihood, which means helping to protect it just makes sense. In fact, more than 300 of them have joined one of the nine RFPA groups across the state. 

"Because they are on the ground, living and working where these fires are happening, they can get to the fires more quickly," said Emily Callihan, Public Information Officer for the Idaho Department of Lands. 

Providing initial attack efforts in areas where it would take traditional fire crews longer to get to the scene, RFPAs help protect around nine million acres of land as trained firefighters. 

"They can provide immediate intelligence on what the fire is doing, where it's spreading, any risks, if there's homes at risk, water sources, roads in the area...anything we need to be aware of," said Andy Delmas, Fire Management Officer with the Bureau of Land Management's Boise Division. 

RFPA members become "certified" firefighters after successfully completing basic fire training through the Bureau of Land Management -- a total of roughly 40 hours -- plus annual re-certification through "refresher" courses, which last between four to eight hours. 

And on scene, they even look the part. 

"They show up dressed for success," Delmas said. "Dressed as a firefighter with all of the proper equipment. They're plugged in right away. We use them as firefighters and it's a great asset." 

Although the Rangeland Fire Protection Association has only been around since 2013, government agencies say this partnership has been invaluable. 

"Anytime you can keep a fire smaller, you're lessening the chance of having to bring in an interagency incident management team, which for some of the largest fires, can cost up to $1 million a day," Callihan said.