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Idaho’s state firefighting bills come to $17 million for season

September 20, 2018

The fire season bills are in for the state of Idaho, and it looks like the state’s net firefighting expenses this year will be just over $17 million, roughly equal to the recent years’ average. The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set aside $20 million this year to cover the state’s firefighting season costs, so the bills are covered.

Total expenditures for firefighting on state-protected lands this year came to $21.67 million; $4.62 million of that is reimbursable from other agencies, leaving a net cost of $17 million.

“We’re at 78 percent of the 20-year average” for the number of fires, acting state Lands Department Director David Groeschl told the state Land Board on Tuesday, “and 63 percent of 20-year average for acres burned. September conditions have moderated significantly here,” with cooler temperatures and some moisture. The last Stage 1 fire restrictions in the state, in the Boise area, will be lifted as of Friday, Groeschl said.

“All are contained, thankfully controlled, and most of ’em are out,” Groeschl said. “We have no active project fires at this time.”

However, four significant fires continue to burn in Idaho outside the Idaho Department of Lands protection areas, according to a report Groeschl presented Tuesday. They include the Indian Butte Fire, which started Sept. 12, is burning 8 miles northwest of Dubois, is currently 11,250 acres and is 20 percent contained; the Wapiti Fire, which started Aug. 25 near Stanley and is now 4,571 acres and 85 percent contained; the Sharps Fire, which started July 29 near Bellevue, is 64,853 acres and is 98 percent contained; and the Grassy Ridge Fire, which started July 26 near Dubois, is 99,502 acres and is now 100 percent contained. That blaze earlier threatened the town of Dubois; all evacuation orders have now been lifted.

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, noted that the number of human-caused fires continues to grow. This year, there were 183 of those out of 236 total fires on state-protected land; the remaining fires were started by lightning. Last year, there were 132 human-caused fires; in 2016, 111; and in 2015, 135.

“Are we not doing a good enough job of alerting folks when they go into the forest, be careful, don’t start a fire?” Otter asked.

Groeschl said IDL has been looking at how to beef up its fire-prevention messaging. It recently sent out a warning notice to alert hunters that as they head into the woods this fall, fire danger remains.

“Even though there are no restrictions,” he said, hunters are being asked “to make sure their warming and cooking fires are out before they leave. We still have the threat of fire; we have not had a season-ending event.” That typically would be a major, drenching rainstorm or significant snowfall.

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