Wildfires

Rowdy Muir started fighting fires on the front lines when he was 27.

Wildfire season is ramping up across our region. There are all sorts of people involved in waiting, watching and fighting them -- people you might not expect. We’re profiling some of them in a series, Faces Behind The Fires.


Every summer, it takes a village to fight wildfires. For this upcoming season, we spoke with all kinds of people that lend a hand, from those on the frontlines, to others working a bit further back from the flames. For the Faces Behind the Fire series, Maggie Mullen talked to an archeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who helps decide what needs be preserved and what can be left to burn.


Fire experts say this season could be big for wildfires in our region. Our Mountain West New Bureau takes you behind the scenes with stories about the people who protect our communities, land and wildlife during wildlfire season. 

This story is about the people who rush into the smoke not to save people or structures, but … animals.  

Wildfire season is ramping up across our region. There are all sorts of people involved in waiting, watching and fighting them -- people you might not expect. We’re profiling some of them in a series, Faces Behind The Fires.

Lyle St. Goddard, 56, is running along a dirt trail on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.  

“It takes me about a lap to loosen up,” he said.

Being a hotshot is a young man’s game.

“I still can do it,” St. Goddard, one of the oldest crew members in the country, said. “I just got to keep in shape. I’ll be okay.”

Idaho Department of Lands

Bark beetles are tiny insects that both thrive on – and contribute to – wildfires. Idaho forest managers are making use of a natural chemical the beetles produce to protect against further damage.

Rebecca Boone / AP Images

Wildfire experts in Boise say the upcoming summer wildfire season could be significant in the Gem State. But that's to be expected, given a suite of environmental and climactic factors.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

As catastrophic wildfires have become more common in the West, they’ve also become more expensive. That’s forced the Forest Service to raid money set aside for fire prevention and instead use it to pay suppression costs.

While Colorado and Utah are prepping for a severe wildfire season this year, Montana, Wyoming and northern Idaho have been counting their lucky stars because all three states had a huge snowpack this season.

“We have the best snowpacks in the country,” said meteorologist Michael Richmond.

When all that snow melts, it’ll keep the forest wet and protected from fire.

However that doesn’t mean the region is free and clear.  Richmond said it may get hotter and drier than usual this summer. A lot of heat and no rain can dry out a forest within a week or two.

The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last month earmarked billions of dollars for fighting wildfires.  Many conservationists and politicians celebrated that change.

But the legislation also rolls rolls back some environmental protections and that has split the conservation community.

For years, Western lawmakers have been trying to change the way we fight wildfires, or at least the way the government funds such work. Now, they may finally get that wish. Congress just passed a measure that would do just that, creating an emergency fund of $20 billion for the Forest Service to fight wildfires over the next decade. It's part of a sweeping new spending deal that the President signed on Friday.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has been pushing for years to make this change.

I’m marching through a stand of blackened, towering pine trees with fire ecologist Philip Higuera. He stops and sniffs the air.

“We can smell the charcoal here,” he says. “You smell that?”

Higuera is a low-key guy with a trimmed beard and sporty sunglasses. But when I ask him whether the massive wildfire that raced across Lolo Peak in Montana last summer was bad, he corrects my choice of words. 

hikinghillman / Flickr

While daytime highs across Idaho flirt with freezing, Los Angeles is parked in the low 80s and getting blown away with gusting Santa Ana winds. The dry heat and sustained windy conditions are primary drivers of the numerous fires engulfing the region.

Claude Paris / Associated Press

A giant passenger jet converted to fight wildfires but grounded by U.S. officials during much of this year's fire season could be aloft much more next year.

NIFC Fire Center Smoke Jumpers
Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The National Interagency Fire Center, based in Boise, is playing an integral role in getting resources to Northern California to fight wildfires there that have claimed more than 20 lives.


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