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Boise Foothills Weather Station Will Be New Firefighting Tool

The weather station will alert fire battalion chiefs when winds shift, allowing them to protect crews and better allocate resources.


The Boise Front Foothills are absent an advanced weather station that could help mitigate wildfires from ripping through the area. There are 200 Remote Automatic Weather Stations around Idaho, but the closest ones are in Elmore and Owyhee counties.

"It surprised me," said Capt. Jerry McAdams, wildlife mitigation coordinator with the Boise Fire Department. "It's crucial for protecting firefighters and protecting homes."

That prompted McAdams and wildfire mitigation colleagues to propose a new RAWS be installed in the Military Reserve open-space area in northeast Boise.

The weather station detects wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, fuel moisture and precipitation. Another feature alerts fire battalion chiefs when winds shift, allowing them to protect crews and better allocate resources. Military Reserve is ideal because of its location in the Boise Front.

Herb Arnold works for the Bureau of Land Management at the National Interagency Fire Center, and he said the data gathered through these weather stations is invaluable.

"If it's been particularly dry, we can judge whether it is more likely to burn," he said.

There are 2,500 RAWS nationwide and the data is used to strategically place firefighting equipment around the country.

"We know when the [fire] season starts, we're going to need X-amount of fire engines and X-amount of air tankers," said Arnold. "We'll start pre-positioning assets in anticipation of what level of fire is likely to occur."

Arnold added that RAWS are different from other weather stations. Most weather service readings are done at airports and they're "principally human-centered."

"The RAWS network is in some really wild and remote places, particularly where fire is an issue," he said.

This particular station, priced at $21,000, will sit atop Elephant Rock Trail. The project is a collaboration between the city of Boise, NFCI, BLM, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Southwest Idaho Resource and Conservation Development Council, Boise State University's Department of Geosciences, and Boise High School.

The Boise Front had a RAWS near Lucky Peak Reservoir years ago, but after excessive vandalism, McAdams said it closed.

But he added this station will serve as an educational opportunity as well, with students from Boise State and Boise High School helping to install and maintain it, and study the data. It'll take up a 400-square-foot area surrounded by an earth-tone-colored security fence. McAdams said he hopes the facility will be up and running this November.