Wildfire forecaster sees late start for Idaho forest fires

Posted at 5:48 AM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 10:41:38-04

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's wet spring and below-average temperatures the last three months will likely mean a later start for forest fires, but rangeland fires could be a problem as grasses dry out, a federal wildfire forecaster said Tuesday.

Bryan Henry of the National Interagency Fire Center in a presentation before the Idaho Land Board said the state is mostly looking good at the moment.

"Spring has actually been very good to us this year with cool and wet overall across the state," he told Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little and other Land Board members. "The fine fuel crop across the grasslands and the deserts has been incredible. We have very heavy fuel loading down there. Should that cure and dry out and become receptive to fire, that could be a little bit problematic later this summer."

The Land Board also received an update from state officials on how state firefighting equipment is being deployed, with much of it in the north to protect forests.

The state is also working with ranchers to form Rangeland Fire Protection Associations, which is a program that trains ranchers and supplies equipment to fight wildfires on private and public land. The state now has nine of them helping protect some 14,000 square miles (36,000 square kilometers) of private, state and federal land.

"If we can just have a little luck and get out early on these fires we'll have a good year," Little said after the meeting. "But it's always a risk. Idaho is a dry state in the summer."

The state has a number of aircraft available to fight fires.

In Coeur d'Alene, the state has two helicopters, a single-engine air tanker and an amphibious water scooper.

There are two more single-engine air tankers in Grangeville and another in McCall.

The state also has about a dozen contracts to support firefighters.

Idaho is also using drones in mapping fires, and has five certified pilots and two more in training to operate the unmanned vehicles.