Hot, dry summer leads to an increase in wildfires across Idaho
Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun
Following a slow start to the fire season attributed to the area’s wet spring, fire activity has increased across Idaho and the West in recent weeks.
Several large fires are burning in Idaho, including the Moose Fire burning north of Salmon, the Four Corners Fire burning in the Payette and Boise national forests outside of Cascade and the Ross Creek Fire burning in the Sawtooth National Forest south of Alturas Lake.
Across Idaho, more than 200,000 acres have burned so far this year, a figure that can increase daily or overnight.
“We’ve definitely had an increase in (fire) activity occurring over the last month or so that is just an accumulation of hot, dry weather as well as low fuel moisture within our fine fuels,” Marshall Thompson, a regional press officer with the U.S. Forest Service told the Sun in a telephone interview.
When public lands and fire officials talk about fine fuels, they are referring to fast-drying fuels like grass, leaves or needles that can ignite readily.
“Everything has been drying out, and we are not getting any replacement moisture in fine fuels,” Thompson added. “That accumulation, month after month and week after week, has put us in that position now where, historically, in September we start to move out of the fire season, but here in southern Idaho we have been hot and dry.”
Even though temperatures across Idaho have dropped to much milder levels, the change in weather has brought higher winds, as well as thunderstorms that can produce lighting and start additional fires, Thompson said.
The wet spring that delayed the start of the fire season has played a role in the situation across the state, said Dennis Strange, the Bureau of Land Management’s state fire management officer in Idaho.
“That wet spring set us up for a lot of grass growth, which Idaho hasn’t had for a number of years, which is great for our wildlife, good for forage for livestock and whatnot, but it also presents a possible fire danger that we have been realizing that throughout the summer,” Strange said in a telephone interview.
“We are quite active (in terms of fires), probably the most active we’ve been so far thus and that’s a direct correlation to really hot temperatures we’ve had and the weather systems coming through and the lightning,” Strange added.
Strange also agrees the fire danger isn’t over yet in Idaho.
“Western Idaho, Southwest Idaho is primed for a very busy September,” Strange said.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game maintains an online Idaho Fire Map that is updated on weekdays with information about the location and containment progress of large active fires across the state.
An overview of three large fires in Idaho
- Location: 17 miles north of Salmon
- Started: July 17
- Cause: Human caused
- Size: 125,935 acres
- Percent of perimeter containment: 37%
- Number of people fighting the fire: 866
Four Corners Fire
- Location: Six miles west of Cascade in the Payette and Boise national forests
- Started: Aug. 13
- Cause: Lightning
- Size: 13,717 acres
- Percent of perimeter containment: 96%
- Number of people fighting the fire: 476
Ross Creek Fire
- Location: Two miles west of Smiley Creek, one mile south of Alturas Lake in the Sawtooth National Forest
- Started: Aug. 14
- Cause: Lightning
- Size: 37,717 acres
- Percent of perimeter containment: 2%
- Number of people fighting the fire: 692
Source: National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Incident Information System