Frequent evacuations, power outages and road closures have marked the busy 2007 wildfire season in Idaho, and it’s not even close to over yet, experts warn.
More acres have burned in Idaho so far this year than anywhere else in the nation, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. So far, nearly 2 million acres in the Gem State have burned, and at a time when the season is normally winding down fires continue to rage in the Boise and Payette national forests.
“It’s not surprising that we’re having a busy year,” NIFC spokesman Ken Frederick said. “What is surprising is that it’s the middle of September and we’re still seeing (fires grow).”
Last year, nearly 882,000 acres burned in Idaho, while under 600,000 acres burned in 2005. Nationally, with about 7.6 million acres burned so far, the 2007 fire season has yet to match the numbers seen in 2006, when 9 million acres burned.
It’s hard to say how much money has been spent battling the fires — Frederick said bills are still trickling in. But he doubts the national cost will top the record $2 billion spent in 2006. That’s when the government summoned air tankers form the military and firefighters from the National Guard, New Zealand, Canada and other far-off locales, he said, raising costs considerably.
“Those costs add up,” Frederick said. “We’ve been more restrained this year. Last year we threw all kinds of resources at fires.”
Typically the fire season begins winding down by the start of September, but fire managers predict this year that the largest fires could continue until the snow flies.
The Cascade complex burning in the Boise National Forest has blackened nearly 300,000 acres, according to the NIFC. More than 860 firefighters continue to battle the complex, which is 30 percent contained. Firefighting has cost an estimated $50.3 million.
In the Payette National Forest, the East Zone complex of four fires is still burning on nearly 294,000 acres. Firefighting has cost roughly $32 million, and fire managers hope to have the complex contained by the end of the month.
Fires have quieted in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which saw more than 160,000 acres burn this year. Forest officials put fire restrictions into place in early July, but lightning still sparked dozens of blazes. As many as 15 were reported in one day in July.
Fires have also calmed in Yellowstone National Park, after what was the busiest season since 2003, when 77 fires charred nearly 28,000 acres. This year, more than 24,000 acres burned, according to the NIFC and the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center.
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