August 16, 2010

The 1910 Fire: Learning From Idaho's Past

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

August 20, 2010, marks the 100-year anniversary of the 1910 Fire that resulted in nearly 100 lost lives, hundreds of injuries, approximately three million burned acres and the destruction of towns and homes in Idaho.  As we honor the heroism of the response to the 1910 Fire, it is a reminder that we must actively manage our national lands, provide resources to our local communities and land managers to respond when lives and property are threatened, take responsibility for reducing fire risk at our homes and be responsible users of our public lands. 

By respecting the devastating consequences of no action, we can honor the memory of the 1910 Fire. Firefighters, engine and airborne crews, smoke jumpers and other support personnel are the embodiment of resilience.  They are highly skilled, quick-thinking strategists, who often endure heavy fire, extreme heat, dense smoke, exhaustion and extended periods of time away from loved ones to battle the fires that rage across our nation's landscapes.  There have been countless acts of heroism by wildland firefighters, and their timely action save lives.  For example, last month, firefighters acted quickly to extinguish the Jefferson Fire that burned 170 square miles on the Idaho National Laboratory Site and a grassfire that destroyed homes in the Eagle area.  Additionally, lives and homes were saved because of the efforts of several courageous Idahoans to extinguish the August 25, 2008, Oregon Trail Fire.  Without this rapid response, the destruction could have been far worse.

While the 1910 Fire and subsequent fires have shaped the way fires are fought, wildfires continue to threaten many communities.  The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported more than 37,000 wildfires nationwide this year alone. 

In an effort to prevent devastating fires, Congress has taken a number of steps to direct resources to address forest health.  For example, I helped enact the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and the Forest Landscape Restoration Act to expedite forest management decisions to enable fuels reduction, prioritize landscape-scale forest projects, encourage private investment and collaborative efforts to create new forest jobs, and prioritize energy and value-added products from timber harvest.  Last month, I joined Senator Risch and seven other Senators in requesting a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing regarding wildfire preparedness and fuel reduction treatments, and I am hopeful the committee will do so at the earliest possible date.

As we recreate on public lands, there are a number of wildfire prevention steps that should be followed.  These precautions include not parking on dry grass, minding burning regulations, notifying personnel quickly if a wildfire starts and keeping stoves and similar devices away from combustibles.  More tips on wildfire prevention can be accessed through the following link:  www.smokeybear.com Additionally, NIFC, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Fire Wise and others provide home protection recommendations for those living in wildland fire environments.  The recommendations include creating a defensible space around homes, removing potentially flammable materials from roofs and gutters, spacing landscape vegetation, maintaining fuel breaks around structures and having hoses and fired tools ready.  Additional recommendations can be accessed through NIFC's website ( www.nifc.gov) and Fire Wise's website ( www.idahofirewise.org).

In his written history of the 1910 Forest Fires, Elors Koch described the forests as "tinder-dry, ready to explode at the touch of a spark."  Unfortunately, parts of our nation's public lands would fit this description today.  Much has been learned from the 1910 Fire, but awareness, precaution, effective land management and home risk reduction must be maintained to reduce devastating wildfires