July 23, 2008


By Senator Mike Crapo

After the snow we had last winter, fires that have ravaged northeastern Washington and the few we've seen in Idaho to date seem somewhat improbable. Unfortunately, even the record-breaking winter we just had isn't a guarantee against wildland fires; in some cases, underbrush growth encouraged by a wet winter can exacerbate troublesome fire conditions. History has demonstrated clearly that, for Westerners, wildfire, like cyclical drought, is a fact of life for which we must be prepared.

Currently, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) is at its highest national fire alert level, higher than it's been since 2002. This is due in large part to the fires in California, but the drought risk factor extends to Idaho as well. As the annual fire season begins in Idaho and the West, people and communities can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildland fire.

The familiar Forest Service campaign, "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires," offers these and other suggestions:

• Don't park vehicles on dry grass.
• If off-road vehicle use is allowed, internal combustion equipment requires a spark arrester.
• Know your county's outdoor burning regulations.
• At the first sign of wildfire, leave the area immediately by established trails or roads. Contact
a Ranger as soon as possible. If the escape route is blocked, go to the nearest lake or stream.
• Inspect your site upon leaving.
• Keep stoves, lanterns and heaters away from combustibles.
• Never use stoves, lanterns and heaters inside a tent.

Thoroughly plan your trip to the woods. Know the area and the weather forecast; be aware of fire or travel restrictions; and select your campsite wisely. Whether it's a day hike, a week-long backcountry horse trip, or something in between, be well-informed and prepared for emergencies.

If you live along vulnerable wildland-urban interface, NIFC offers these recommendations when it comes to protecting your home:
• Clean roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.
• Remove portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney.
• Space landscape vegetation so that fire can't be carried to the structure or surrounding vegetation.
• Maintain a fuel break around all structures.
• Dispose of stove or fireplace ashes and charcoal briquettes only after soaking them in a metal pail of water.
• Propane tanks should be far enough away from buildings for valves to be shut off in case of fire. Keep area clear of flammable vegetation.
• All combustibles should be kept away from structures.
• Garden hoses should be connected to outlets.
• Addressing should be indicated at all intersections and on structures.
• Roads and driveways should be at least 16 feet wide.
• Have fire tools handy: ladder long enough to reach the roof, shovel, rake and water bucket.
Four Idaho communities participate in a proactive effort to protect personal property before a fire starts. Two communities near Lake Coeur d'Alene, one in Boise and one in Pocatello participate in the National Firewise Communities Program, a multi-agency effort designed to involve homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers and others in efforts to reduce wildland fire risk and damage.

Scars from wildland fires last lifetimes. Practice safety in the woods and at home this season, and remember the motto that Keep Idaho Green, a statewide fire prevention organization formed in 1946, embraced years ago that remains painted on some state roads even today: Don't be a Guberif.