As unprecedented fire risk looms, Gov. Little calls on Idahoans to use extreme caution

Dept. of Lands requested emergency assistance due to ‘crush of demands on the resources at the federal level’

By: - July 13, 2021 5:04 pm
Brad Little meets with firefighters

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, right, tours the Great Basin Smokejumpers base at the National Interagency Fire Center on Tuesday July 13, 2021. (Photo by Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Gov. Brad Little issued a dire warning about the nearly unprecedented fire risk in Idaho as he toured the Great Basin Smokejumpers base Tuesday at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. 

Tuesday’s visit to the fire center and the public warnings followed the emergency declaration Little issued Friday. That order authorizes Idaho National Guard personnel to support fire logistics, or to actually fight fires in the case of National Guard personnel with fire line qualifications. 

“The percent of the West that is under extreme drought and extreme dry conditions is almost unheard of,” Little said in a press conference outside the fire center. 

Little said the Idaho Department of Lands requested emergency assistance due to “the crush of demands on the resources at the federal level.”

Smokejumper suits
Smokejumpers wear Kevlar suits and carry about 110 pounds of gear when they parachute in to battle remote wildfires. (Photo by Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

“Given the magnitude and the footprint of the drought and extreme fire conditions, there really is no question that this is all hands-on-deck,” Little said, adding he was worried about professional firefighter capacity. 

Little called on Idahoans to obey any closures or orders land managers or other officials put in place due to fire risk. He also urged residents to exercise extreme caution as they are outside enjoying recreational activities. 

He said taking such steps can mean the difference between saving someone else’s property or life.

“We are seeing historically unprecedented fire conditions statewide,” said Josh Harvey, fire management chief for the Idaho Department of Lands.

As of Tuesday, Idaho has 10 large fires burning that are being managed by incident management teams, Harvey added. The largest, the Snake River Complex, includes three fires that all grew together along the Salmon River, Hells Canyon and the Snake River south of Lewiston. That fire complex was listed at 88,000 acres Tuesday morning and expected to continue to grow in the coming days, Harvey said. 

When fire officials refer to a “complex” they are talking about two or more fires that are in the same general area.   

“It’s early for the fire season, and we know we are going to have a big fire season,” Little said. 

After the press conference, Little toured the smokejumpers base inside the National Interagency Fire Center. 

Located adjacent to the Boise airport, the 55-acre campus is essentially the national headquarters for wildfire management. Nine different agencies with wildland fire programs are based at the fire center. 

Phil Lind, chief of the Great Basin Smokejumpers, told Little there are smokejumper crews in four locations now, in Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Nevada. Lind told the Idaho Capital Sun a fifth contingent of smokejumpers is expected to be set up in Boise or Idaho Falls soon. 

The Great Basin SmokeJumpers are an elite team of firefighters that jump out of airplanes flying 3,000 feet above the ground to parachute into remote, hard to access fires. The jumpers carry about 110 pounds of gear, are trained and tested to suit up in two minutes or less when called and then often pack all of their gear out when they are finished fighting the fire. 

Once they jump from the plane, the jumpers’ mission “is an aggressive, initial attack designed to get resources to fires while they are still small,” Lind said.

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.