June 07, 2006

NOTHING BUT OUR BARE HANDS

Guest opinion by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

â??In order to save anything at all we had to begin firing the buildings on the outskirts of the town, and then the terrible work of forcing the backfire towards the big blaze began. I will never forget the sight. An impassable wall of fire was eating its way down the hillside. Our backfire, which had assumed huge proportions, was creeping up towards it. In exactly four and one-half minutes after we started our fire, the two met. Never have I seen anything like it plunging at each other like two living animals, the two met with a roar that must have been heard miles away. The rest of the world didn't know what we were going through. It couldn't, and that was the terrible part of it. We might have been the only men in the world for all it mattered. Alone, we were left with nothing but our bare hands and the help of our Creator to bring us out alive.â??-From Thaddeus Roe's description of the flames he faced in the fight to save Avery, Idaho. Roe was part of the rescue team sent to Storm Creek to bring out the bodies of 29 men who stood their ground, rather than flee the raging fire. These words were written about one of the most devastating fires in U.S. history, the 1910 fire. Between August 20 and 23, this horrific inferno burned over three million acres in northern Idaho and western Montana. Eight billion board feet of timber went up in flames, along with homes and most tragically, 78 firefighters, some of whom lie today in unmarked graves in St. Maries. Experts conclude that the 80 mph winds blowing those two days and nights were unique, and complicating factors of fuel load, primitive fire-fighting practices and lack of access to much of the land contributed to this monstrosity of a fire. However, today other factors make wildland fire safety just as important: excessive accumulation of plant undergrowth and other ground fuels, hot, dry weather conditions, increased human use of wilderness and wildland areas and increased wildland/urban interface. As we prepare for another Idaho summer of outdoor recreation almost 100 years later, we must heed lessons learned about wildfire danger.The familiar Forest Service campaign, â??Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,â?? offers these tips:- 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.- Leave campsites as natural as possible; travel on trails and other durable surfaces.- Inspect your site upon leaving.- Never take any type of fireworks on public lands.- Keep stoves, lanterns and heaters away from combustibles.- Store flammable liquid containers in a safe place.- Never use stoves, lanterns and heaters inside a tent.Thoroughly plan your trip. Know the area; develop a checklist; be aware of fire or travel restrictions; know the weather forecast; and, select your campsite wisely. Whether itâ??s a day hike, a week-long backcountry horse trip, or something in between, you need to be well-informed and prepared for emergencies. Preparation and planning go a long way toward preventing catastrophes. Although the terrible 1910 fire was what might be called a rare â??perfect storm,â?? those of us who recreate and work in our great outdoors should do so wisely and responsibly. WORD COUNT: 596