North Central Idaho fire season intense, short-lived

The 2015 fire season in North Central Idaho will be remembered for its extremes —explosive fire behavior and devastating effects on communities and resources on one hand, a positive rallying point for community disaster and recovery support, and some positive impacts on the land, according to the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. On federal lands, the fires produced the same battle of extremes seen on state and private ground: ranger stations, recreational infrastructure, critical habitats and timber stands were threatened by fire. Most were saved. Some were lost. The season is replete with stories of heroism, hard work, and people coming together for a common goal. Facts and figures do not tell the whole story.

Planning for the 2015 fire season began long before the lightning hit in early August. Fuel moistures were low and temperatures were high through the spring and early summer. The central Idaho fire leadership group braced for an epic season and ordered additional firefighting resources. When lightning ignited more than 250 fires between Aug. 9-11 and immediately threatened communities outside of lands managed by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, the additional Forest Service firefighters were already on the way. As fire threatened Kamiah, Orofino, Peck, Nezperce and other communities, the Forest Service diverted initial attack personnel, aircraft, and incoming firefighting resources for use by Idaho Department of Lands to protect the public and the values most at risk, at that time.  The Forest’s remaining initial attack resources extinguished many of the fires on the Nez Perce-Clearwater, but those that were unstaffed grew big. When communities near forest lands were threatened, firefighting resources, regardless of agency affiliation, were shared to continue to keep the public safe. This season’s interagency effort involved two countries, 26 states, nine counties, nine cities, several rural fire districts, four tribes, and seven federal agencies in the effort.

The 2015 fire season was intense and relatively short-lived, but the impacts will be felt personally, professionally, socially, economically, and environmentally for years to come. When the smoke in the valleys cleared, more than 280,000 acres of private, state, tribal, and federal land were impacted. On the Nez Perce-Clearwater, mapping shows 195,683 acres burned with about two-thirds of that in the roaded front country. Assessing impacts and restoration began while the fires were still burning. Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Teams inventoried and prioritized imminent post-wildfire threats to human life and safety, property, and critical natural or cultural resources on National Forest System lands. Recently the Nez Perce-Clearwater received $1.09 million to begin to address those threats. In addition to working on National Forest lands, many current and retired Forest Service employees are assessing private lands to assist landowners. “The Forest will continue to be a player in the restoration efforts off National Forest System lands because it is the right thing to do for the communities and the resources in the basin,” said Cheryl Probert, Forest Supervisor.

Details about post-fire work plans are online at idahocountyfreepress.com.

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