Clark Corbin

(Idaho Capital Sun) The sharp increase in human-caused fires in Idaho continued throughout the summer and into the fall, with Idaho Department of Lands officials investigating 206 fires caused by people so far this year, state officials said Tuesday.

The 206 human-caused fires reported by the Idaho Department of Lands so far in 2023 compare to 78 fires caused by lighting over the same time period.

In 2022, state officials investigated 127 human-caused fires and 153 fires caused by lighting, Idaho Department of Lands records show.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller briefed Gov. Brad Little and the other members of the State Board of Land Commissioners about the 2023 season during a meeting Tuesday at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Once reimbursable costs are accounted for, the state’s cost for fighting fires is expected to hit $17.4 million for 2023, Miller said. That should leave the state with about $64 million in its firefighting fund heading into next year.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Little noted that $64 million is about what the state spent on fighting fires during the 2021 fire season alone. The 2021 fire season was the most recent “big” fire season in Idaho, marked by larger fires and heavy fire activity north of the Salmon River, Miller said.

Although he was concerned by the increase in human-caused fires, Miller said the good news is that the state’s team of wildland firefighters worked hard to catch, contain and extinguish the fires safely. Although the number of fires was in line with the state’s 20-year-average, Miller said the number of acres burned was only 10% of the 20-year average.

“That’s a pretty impressive feat given the kind of acreage that our folks are protecting,” Miller told the land board. “With the new eastern Idaho district, we are looking at more than 9 million acres…. (We are) really proud of the work our men and women did on the fire line this summer.”

Fire officials in Idaho, Washington investigating increase in human-caused fires

Fire officials in Idaho and Washington have been warning the public about an increase in human-caused fires for months, the Idaho Capital Sun and the Washington State Standard have reported.

“We also have more people living and working near the wildland-urban interface, near endowment lands, and so we are seeing more unwanted human-caused fires,” Miller said. “So that’s kind of been the trend, seeing an uptick in human-caused starts. But again, our folks did a phenomenal job this year jumping on those fires and keeping them small.”

State fire officials previously told the Sun that neglected and abandoned campfires that had not been doused and fully extinguished are one of the biggest problems they are facing.

The largest fires in Idaho in 2023 occurred on federal U.S. Forest Service lands, including the Elkhorn Fire in the Payette National Forest and the Hayden Fire in the Lemhi Range.

Miller presented data Tuesday showing that 64,789 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands burned this year in Idaho, accounting for the majority of the 86,942 total acres burned across the state. The rest of the fires occurred on a mix of U.S. Bureau of Land Management, private, state, tribal and other federal lands.

Depending on where a fire starts in Idaho and what type of land it is on, different agencies are responsible for fighting it. The Idaho Department of Lands is now responsible for protecting more than 9 million acres of land in Idaho, Miller said. Meanwhile, more than 34 million acres in Idaho are managed by the federal government, about two-thirds of the state’s land mass.

Miller told the land board he hoped Tuesday’s briefing will be the final update necessary for the 2023 fire season. Snow has already begun falling in several mountain ranges across the state, and lower temperatures are in the forecast for next week.