Burning Conditions in Central Idaho are More Like Mid-Summer

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The official start of spring is still more than a week away, but Idaho has already experienced its first wildfire. The 15-acre blaze ignited on March 9 in the Payette National Forest three miles northeast of Council.

According to a news release from the Payette National Forest, the fire was intentionally sparked by a landowner on private property, but quickly grew out of control and spread through a ponderosa pine stand in the national forest. It did not threaten any structures.

Crews responded to the Shingle Flat fire on March 9, with 10 fire fighters remaining on the site March 10 to extinguish hot spots.

Gary Brown, fire management officer for the Payette National Forest, said wildfire is usually not a threat this time of year, but because of heavy spring rains and a lack of snowpack, "our light fuels have dried out significantly, and other fuels are quickly drying out throughout the course of each day."

"We are already experiencing burning conditions that are more like early- to mid-summer,"  McCall Fire Chief Mark Billmire stated in the release.

Greg Keller, assistant fire warden for the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association, said he's concerned that people aren't aware of the unseasonably dry conditions. He said many people often bring their families together and conduct field and debris burning.

"These groups need to be aware that conditions are not typical, and the likelihood of a fire getting away from them is very much a reality," he said.

Keller warned that just because agencies like the Forest Service and Ponderosa State Park are igniting prescribed burns does not mean it's safe for anyone else to burn.

To help prevent wildfires, fire districts in McCall, Donnelly and Cascade have organized woody debris collection sites where material can be dropped off starting May 23 and running through the month of June.

"People have asked me if we are in for a severe fire year," Brown said. "My answer is that it's too early to tell as we need to see what this spring brings as for as rain. But right now, burning conditions are such that small yard or field burning projects can quickly become wildfires."

According to the InciWeb incident reporting site, there are two active wildfires in the United States: the 59-acre North Pole fire in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, and the 200-acre Stephens Wildfire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The Stephens Wildfire was also sparked on private land during a prescribed burn, but has been 100 percent contained while fire fighters continue to patrol for hot spots. The North Pole fire, meanwhile, is 10 percent contained but crews expect to have it fully under control by Thursday, March 12. The cause is still under investigation.