Michelle Erdie is the Sawtooth National Forest North Zone Fire Prevention & Education Specialist.
July is here and our local wildfire season is fast approaching. We had a cool, wet spring, but recent days have been hot, dry and windy. Vegetation has grown tall and is quickly drying out. Fire behavior in recent years has been more extreme than we have ever seen. Small, Type 5 fires that had generally stayed small are rapidly becoming large fires. The Wood River and Sawtooth Valleys have hosted three Type 1 Teams over the last three years with the Valley Road, Trailhead and Castle Rock fires. Until recently, the presence of a Type 1 Team had never occurred before in the history of the Sawtooth National Forest.
Fires range from the single tree, Type 5 incident to the large, complicated Type 1 incident. A Type 5 incident can be tackled with as few as two people and a chainsaw. A Type 1 incident requires a large team organizing and leading the planning, operations and logistical support to safely gain control of the fire. The complexity of a fire can depend on its size, whether or not structures or communities are threatened, or social and political implications. Drought, weather conditions and the buildup of homes in the Wildland Urban Interface greatly adds to the complexity.
Forest personnel have discovered more unattended campfires this year than usual. The green valleys and hillsides are deceiving campers to believe that their campfire won't spread to the nearby vegetation and start a wildfire. Be careful. That small campfire could become our next Type 1 incident.