Idaho is as prepared as possible for the approaching wildfire season, with fire crews and air resources strategically placed, more ranchers signing up to help fight fires and two state-owned drones that can be deployed, officials said Tuesday.
Idaho Department of Lands workers provided the details to the Idaho Land Board, which also received a report from a federal expert predicting what appears to be a typical wildfire year for Idaho.
There are “not a lot of abnormalities, but certainly fire activity will exist,” Jeremy Sullens of the National Interagency Fire Center told the board of statewide elected officials.
The five-member board had only four members participating as Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was traveling.
Sullens predicted that rangeland wildfires will begin occurring more often in southern Idaho in the next several weeks, with wildfires expected in forested lands farther north later in the summer and fall.
He said there’s a dividing line across the top third of the state. Above it is thick snowpack and below it is an area where concern is growing as temperatures increase.
“Everyone is expecting a warm and dry summer,” Sullens said.
Rick Finis of the Idaho Department of Lands said 35 more people have signed up to participate in Rangeland Fire Protection Associations, a program that trains ranchers to fight wildfires on private and public land.
Ranchers can often respond quickly to new wildfires and are especially needed if state and federal firefighters are tied up on fires elsewhere.
Finis said there are now 450 members with firefighting training in associations that cover 2,800 square miles (7,250 square kilometers) of private rangeland and 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers) of federal and state land. He said the state has supplied seven fire engines to the associations.
Elsewhere, the state has helicopters and airplanes available in Coeur d’Alene, Grangeville and McCall, areas within striking distance of timberland.
The Idaho Land Board manages state endowment lands to make money that benefits mostly public schools. Endowment lands that produce timber are a significant source of revenue.
Idaho last year tried using a drone on an experimental basis and this year has two with five certified pilots and two more in training.
Acting Idaho Department of Lands Director David Groeschl said the drones have turned out to be especially helpful in getting information on a fire that has just started, and locating hot spots in established fires that crews can then attack.
“You can find the fire start and be very efficient on what resources you send in and how many,” he said. “You can spend quite a bit of time trying to locate a fire with typical aviation resources, which are much more expensive than a drone.”
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