USA––The state ended up with 1.713 million acres of forest and grasslands burnt and charred by the time fire season ended in October — the worst such year since 2007.
The summer of 2012 started out pretty well for the forests in the Pacific Northwest. A moist spring kept Idaho mountains green while states like Colorado battled dry conditions and devastating wildfires.
By August, thanks to one of the hottest and driest summers on record, Idaho forests were ready to burn. The state ended up with 1.713 million acres of forest and grasslands burnt and charred by the time fire season ended in October — the worst such year since 2007. The state had 384,000 acres burn in 2011.
The kicker is that 2012 could have been worse. The weather might have dried out the forest, but people did most of the damage.
“For lightning, it was a super-dry year. We didn’t have the thunderstorms that usually come through (southwest and central Idaho),” Boise National Forest Fire Management Officer Bob Shindelar said last week.
“By the end of the summer, our conditions were just as dry this year as they were in 2007. It could have been much, much worse if we had a typical amount of lightning,” added Dave Olson, Boise National Forest spokesman. “We caught a break. Our biggest problems, by far, were human-caused.”
Idaho had 384,103 acres charred by wildfire in 2011 — with an almost identical number of fire starts — 1,092 in 2012 and 1,094 in 2011.
In the Boise National Forest, there were 21 human-caused fires vs. 42 lightning- caused fires in 2012, burning a total of 154,000 acres. The 10-year average for the forest is 14 human-caused vs 72 lightning-caused a year, which burn an average of 32,000 acres.
The math doesn’t reflect well on us humans.
Fire managers know lightning storms are inevitable and that wildfire is part of forest ecology. What is not part of the natural cycle are hot mufflers, cigarette butts and smoldering remains of campfires.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT
It appears as if a burning utility vehicle (similar to a golf cart) on a remote forest road started the Trinity Ridge Fire on Aug. 3. The blaze eventually burned 146,000 acres of Boise National Forest, led to the evacuation of Featherville and led to the closure of 300,000 acres of popular forest recreation area. Fire crews battled that fire until Oct. 15.
At one point, there were more than 1,400 firefighters working on the blaze, with two separate fire management teams on opposite sides of the fire because it was so big and moving towards the wildland-urban interface. Camping, hiking and angling were barred on the Middle Fork of the Boise River drainage around the wildfire for more than a month.
By the time it was over, fire officials had spent $45 million fighting the blaze.
Shindelar says fire investigators know who owned the vehicle and have talked to that person but are still trying to figure out whether a criminal case exists or whether there is evidence of negligence. It could be up to the U.S. attorney’s office to try to recover costs associated with the blaze.
The cause of the 6,150-acre Springs Fire in the mountains between Idaho 55 and the Banks-to-Lowman Highway is still under investigation, but officials do know it started right next to Skinnydipper Hot Springs, on an often slippery hillside that is too steep for any mechanical vehicles. There was no lightning that day.
Shindelar declined to say whether any suspects have been identified or if investigators know exactly what started it. But he did say they know there were people near the hot springs at the time the fire started, just after 10:30 p.m. Aug. 5, and that investigators have done several interviews in connection with the case. The final cost for the Springs Fire was about $7 million.
The fire for which an attempt to get restitution seems most likely to be successful would be the 440- acre Karney Fire, which burned one home and threatened more than 100 others in the Robie Creek and Wilderness Ranch areas off Idaho 21 in September.
Nathaniel Bartholomew, an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter, is awaiting a jury trial after pleading not guilty to a felony third-degree arson charge. Boise County sheriff’s officials say it appears Bartholomew set the fire to get the attention of his father, also a firefighter.
The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.