A firefighter works to put out flames in the Grassy Ridge Fire. Courtesy: BLM

Hot weather and a little bit of wind are perfect conditions for a wildfire. Photo: A firefighter works to put out flames during the lightning-caused Grassy Ridge Fire near Dubois.

August 2, 2018
Writer: Brandon Isle

It's no secret fire danger is high in Eastern Idaho. It's hot, dry and the wind adds to the potential for a devastating wildfire. While many fires are started by Mother Nature, like the Grassy Ridge Fire near Dubois, others are started by humans. They're the preventable ones and the ones fire managers hope to curb.

So far this year, Eastern Idaho has seen more than 40 wildfires of various sizes, according to the Bureau of Land Management's website which has totals as of July 20, 2018. The largest recent fire in Eastern Idaho was started by lightning. The Grassy Ridge Fire burning near Dubois is now 100 percent contained. It has burned 99,502 acres. At one point, it threatened the town of Dubois and forced people to evacuate. Firefighters stepped up big time to prevent that from happening.

"I know I sound like some old Western movie, 'They saved the town!' But that's exactly what they did," said Norm Rooker, the fire information officer for the fire.

Too many fires this summer, say fire managers, started because of humans. Sometimes because they were doing prohibited activities on public land. The Bureau of Land Management's Fire Prevention Order restricts the use of exploding targets, fireworks and incendiary/tracer ammunition. The BLM is trying to get the word out.

"This year we stepped up our enforcement on that because we just weren't getting a lot of compliance with people abiding by that," said Kevin Conran, the fire mitigation and education specialist for the BLM in Eastern Idaho. "Because of that, we've seen a lot of fires in the area that have been attributing to things included in that fire prevention order."

Conran says it's important for each of us to take responsibility when we're using public lands.

"I think it's important to just embrace the public lands and just realize how fortunate we are in this country to have public lands to utilize," he said. "We typically think about how we utilize them in recreation, but there are other people whose livelihood rely on public lands. There are ranchers in the area who rely on grazing public lands, or they may have private lands adjacent to public lands and when we have fires, their lands burn too. And that affects their livelihood and it affects the local economies."

If you happen to start a wildfire on public lands you could get a $180 fine. There are also instances when a wildfire was bad enough that the person who started it had to pay for fighting the fire. In 2016, 19-year-old Kristian Lopez of Ammon was lighting off bottle rockets and started the Henry's Creek Fire. It burned 81 square miles over a couple of weeks.

According to court documents, Lopez was initially ordered to pay $1.7 million after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to property by setting fire to the forest, prairie lands or by unextinguished campfire. That restitution fine has grown to nearly $3.3 million. He also spent some time in jail.

Conran says it's hard to estimate what it costs to fight wildfires because they're so expensive. But the cost adds up quickly when a fire gets out of control.

"When we start flying retardant and using helicopters and the aviation assets we have can be pretty expensive," Conran said. "When we start bringing in heavy equipment like dozers, things like that, engines and crews it just depends what resources we're using and how long they have to be there."

To help try to stop fires there are restrictions in place. In Madison County, the commissioners voted Aug. 1 to put fire restrictions in place in the county. That means fires are only allowed in approved fire rings until Sept. 30. Dale Pickering, the Fire Inspector for Madison County, says you need to know the regulations in place before you head into the county or anywhere.

"Ultimately, it's personal responsibility that to be aware of where you're at and what you're doing and using a common sense approach that if it doesn't feel right, if it doesn't look right, then you probably shouldn't be doing it," Pickering said. "Just be a good steward and be responsible for the lands we all want to enjoy and go back to over and over again."

For more information about fire safety and current fire conditions click on this link.