Heavy precipitation gives way to fire danger

06 August 2020

Published by https://www.postregister.com

USA – After two months of above-average precipitation, government workers are preparing for an increase in wildfires as Central Idaho returns to its usual summer weather.

“We just moved into high fire potential,” Bureau of Land Management Fire Information Officer Kelsey Griffee said July 31.

At the end of July 2019, Challis had received about 4 inches of precipitation. This year, more than 6 inches of precipitation had fallen by the end of July. Much of that moisture came recently, including June 17 when 1.56 inches of precipitation was recorded in Challis in 24 hours.

Griffee said the June moisture fed the land the BLM oversees, which is mostly large fields of grass. The fattened plant life is starting to dry out, increasing the likelihood of large, quick-spreading fires, she said.

Idaho Department of Lands Fire Information Officer Jennifer Russell concurred with Griffee. She said the department is also preparing for an uptick in fires on the land they manage in Central Idaho. Tracking temperatures across the state, Russell said the last week of July was “exceptionally high.”

Russell said Idaho experienced a cool first half of summer. Dawn Harmon, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s field office in Pocatello, said heavy precipitation isn’t typical for this part of the year in Idaho. She said the state typically starts to warm up and dry out in early July, but this year that didn’t happen till about the last week of the month.

Idaho stayed wet and cool in early summer because of several moist, low-pressure systems, according to Harmon. The systems kept the air too cold for fires, she said, but that will likely change in the coming months. Before summer becomes fall, Harmon said people will “definitely need to keep an eye out” for fires.

There have been some wildland fires this summer, according to Griffee, but they have mostly been human-caused. Many fires are caused by thunderstorms, she said. Because of the sustained precipitation that came with the storms this year, Griffee said lightning strikes didn’t do the damage they normally do.

To prevent further harm from human-caused fires, both Russell and Griffee said people need to be vigilant. Checking fire pits, making sure cigarette butts are out and parking hot vehicles away from tall grass are ways to avoid starting fires as land dries out.

Two small fires were put out within a day each last week on the Salmon-Challis Forest.

The Reynolds Fire burned less than one-third of an acre between July 29 and 30 about 27 miles northwest of North Fork and 1.5 miles east of Reynolds lake.

The Newman Fire, about 15 miles northwest of Stanley, north of Copper Mountain, burned a quarter of an acre between Aug. 1 and 2.

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