Gem State Roundup

Over 200 Idaho firefighters sent across the West this wildfire season

By: - July 28, 2022 4:00 am
U.S. Forest Service firefighters

U.S. Forest Service firefighters prepare to battle the Caldor Fire on Aug. 31, 2021, in Meyers, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As of Friday, the Idaho Department of Lands and Timber Protective Association have sent 221 employees to other Western states to assist fighting fires in the field, according to a press release from IDL. 

Firefighters have been deployed to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Alaska, California, Washington, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming. They’re also assisting the U.S. Forest Service and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The slow start to Idaho’s fire season has made it possible to send firefighters away to gain experience and training while building relationships with the surrounding states, according to the release. 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said in the release that this was an opportunity for firefighters to gain experience on the dime of other states and the federal government, which gives Idaho taxpayers a bit of a break. The Department of Lands will be reimbursed by the other jurisdictions for the wages and expenses incurred by Idaho firefighters while they are on off-district assignments.

During the 2021 fire season, President Joe Biden increased the federal minimum wage for firefighters to $15 per hour. New firefighters in Idaho are paid $15 per hour to start. 

The Idaho Legislature approved a budget that includes the Department of Lands spending over $1 million to make fire-billing, reporting, invoicing, accounting and cost-sharing more efficient by switching from a paper system to the electronic Gold’s Business System. This system is being universally adopted by the Western states, according to the release, and reimbursement from the federal government is typically seen in less than a year rather than up to five years it takes to see it with the current system.

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Anteia Elswick
Anteia Elswick

Anteia McCollum is an intern with the Idaho Capital Sun. She will graduate from a the University of Idaho with a journalism degree in December. She has served as a columnist, reporter, photographer, graphic designer and editor during her time at The Argonaut, the UI student newspaper. She also freelances with Project FARE, a nonprofit focused on telling Idaho's food stories. In 2017, she joined the Idaho Army National Guard as a combat engineer and will complete her contract in December 2023. She's an avid outdoor enthusiast with an interest in environmental reporting as a lifelong career. Her hobbies collide with her line of work, including reading, photography, design and some outside activities like backpacking and wandering around the local farmers market.