Friday, July 8, 2011

Fire season outlook deemed average

Officials say wet spring brings late, slow start

Express Staff Writer

Bill Murphy, fire management officer for the Ketchum Ranger District, said he tries not to predict the severity of any given fire season, but one thing is for certain: "We will have a fire season."

"We're already experiencing human-caused fires," he said.

Three small fires have been sparked by campers and recreationists on the district so far this year, including one that Murphy said may have been caused by motorcyclists.

A cold, long, wet spring has caused a late start to the season, Murphy said. He contrasted this year with 2007, the year of the Castle Rock Fire, which burned more than 48,000 acres and reached the summit of Bald Mountain, threatening homes in Warm Springs and Greenhorn Gulch.

"That one ranked up in the top three driest summers in my time here," Murphy said. "We have been greener and have had a slower progression into fire season in comparison to the more memorable years."

Kyli Astle, head of fire information and prevention at the Twin Falls District of the BLM, said district firefighters reported to blazes on more than 400,000 acres of land last year. This year, she said, she's looking forward to a lighter load.

"We're looking at just an average season," she said, estimating roughly 162 fires, more than last year's 127, but a total burn of roughly 174,000 acres.

Last year's high burn total was caused by the Long Butte Fire, which charred nearly 330,000 acres 35 miles south of Glenns Ferry.

Astle said the larger region isn't affected by the weather that the Wood River Valley has enjoyed, however.

"Things are pretty dried out right now," she said. "At any time, the conditions are set for a fire, [especially] if we have a hot, dry day."

The wet weather may have slowed the start of fire season, but Murphy said the late season could be active, especially in August and September as the vegetation encouraged by June rainstorms begins to dry out.

Roughly 60 percent of fires on the Ketchum Ranger District are natural, caused by lighting strikes. But humans cause the other 40 percent, and Murphy said these fires can be affected by the weather as well.

"In a green, wet year like we've been having, there are more people not putting their campfires out and not being as cautious," he said. "We still have a lot of folks that leave their campfires burning."

To prevent vehicles and ATVs from igniting dry vegetation, Astle recommends not parking on dry grass, staying on designated trails and clearing debris from the undercarriage of ATVs after use.

"It's going to be hot sitting there, and it could easily spark up," she said.

Murphy recommended that recreationists remain aware of fire danger and use extreme caution when smoking or using campfires.

"We want people to have fun, but we also want them to pay attention," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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