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00000176-d8fc-dce8-adff-faff71c90000Idaho's wildfire season is here, and that means you're going to be hearing a lot of firefighting jargon to describe what's going on.We put together this list of key firefighting terms you're likely to hear in the next few months.GlossaryHotshots: A highly trained hand crew of wildland firefighters that works on the ground to contain a blaze. Crews usually operate in 20-person teams, and are sent in first to deal with the worst fire conditions on short notice. Hotshots have a high level of physical fitness. They can carry up to 50 pounds along with a chainsaw and shovel. There are more than 100 hotshot crews around the country, and the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise coordinates the crews.Hand crew: Wildland firefighters that could have different levels of training. They work on the ground with hand tools like shovels, chainsaws and axes. They dig fire lines (also called "firebreaks") to try and get the fire under control.Smokejumper: An elite firefighter that parachutes into remote wildland fires. They work to suppress and put out fires before they become a bigger problem, and can adapt to quickly changing situations. Smokejumpers have to be fit and highly trained. They carry heavy packs and protective suits and work in mountainous terrain. Idaho has three smokejumping bases in Boise, McCall and Grangeville.Fire lines or firebreaks: Usually about 10-12 feet wide, fire lines are cut with shovels and axes to contain and suppress a blaze. Hand crews -- including hotshots -- will dig lines and clear out brush so the fire will get choked off without fuel.Containment levels: The agency that manages a fire will say how "contained" a fire is. At 100 percent containment a fire isn't out. That means a complete fire line has been dug around the fire. A contained fire can quickly become out of control again with a shift in weather.Controlled fire: This is when a wildfire is considered out. Here's how the BLM office in Idaho Falls describes it: "Think of a container -- say, a mason jar. A fire is contained when it's all 'bottled in,' like in a container. The fire may still be burning, but if a distinct fire line is built around the entire perimeter so that there is no chance for the fire to escape or spot over outside the line, then the fire fighters declare the fire 'contained.' "Human caused: This means someone accidentally or intentionally caused a fire. This could be from a discarded cigarette, a embers from a campfire, or even sparks from a truck along a forested highway. As Smokey says, nine times out of 10, a wildfire is human-caused.Fire danger: This is a rating system from the U.S. Forest Service that helps predict how likely a wildfire could start in an area. It takes into account the weather forecast, terrain and personnel. "Low" means a blaze would likely not spread, while "moderate" means a fire could start but could be contained. "High" to "very high" means fires can catch and spread easily, while "extreme" means the conditions are so difficult and fast-changing that fighting the blaze directly is rare.Red flag warning: These warning are issued by regional National Weather Service offices, and help firefighting management teams understand the weather-related risks for fire starts. Drought and low humidity mixed with windy conditions usually spell a red flag warning. Burning bans sometimes come along with these warnings.Complex: Two or more larger wildfires in the same general area. A complex is managed by a unified team of firefighters.Air attack: Usually used during the initial stages of a small blaze, or as a suppression tool during large fires. Air attacks can drop fire retardant or water to help support hand and engine crews. Multi-engine or heavy air tankers, single-engine air tankers, and helicopters are the three most common types of aircraft that can be used. Multi-engine tankers carry the most retardant, while helicopters (or helitankers) can make more precise but smaller drops.Fire retardant: Also known as slurry, these USDA-approved chemicals are dropped by aircraft over wildfires that management teams believe could grow and become dangerous. It's often used to protect private property. A 2010 ruling from the U.S. District Court in Montana raised questions about its environmental effects.Incident management teams: Operating from level one through five, these teams of firefighters can be sent around the country to suppress fires. Type 1 and 2 IMT's often work on the most difficult and dangerous fires, and can include local firefighting resources.ResourcesWe also pulled together these key resources where you can find up-to-date information about wildfires.The National Interagency Fire Center coordinates fire management teams around the country, and is based in Boise. This year, NIFC predicted a higher level of fire danger in Idaho forests, while the grassland should get a bit of a break.The Bureau of Land Management's site will update Idahoans about fire restrictions on public land.InciWeb updates fire information around the country, giving handy info about road closures during the summer travel season. You'll also find maps, photos, and growth potential for a particular fire.And if you tweet, consider following these organizations and agencies for fire updates in 140 characters.

Meet The Cast Of Disney’s ‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ And Their Real Life Idaho Counterparts


As firefighters work to contain wildfires burning in Idaho and the West, an animated Disney movie opens this weekend portraying what those wildland firefighters do in real life. Disney’s "Planes: Fire & Rescue" isn’t exactly an action movie,  it’s a cartoon about anthropomorphic talking airplanes.

The National Interagency Fire Center's Mike Ferris (NIFC) says the entire wildland-firefighting community is excited about this movie. The U.S. Forest Service is even planning educational outreach around it. A group called the Spouses and Partners of Wildland Firefighters is sponsoring nationwide screenings of the movie for firefighters and their families, including one Saturday in Meridian.

Disney began consulting with the Forest Service about the movie in 2010. You can find real life equivalents of the characters fighting fires in Idaho right now.

The protagonist of "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is a crop-duster-turned-racer-turned-firefighter named Dusty Crophopper. He’s based on a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEATs) used by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs. SEATs can carry 800 gallons of fire retardant which they usually drop ahead of a wildfire to slow it down for ground crews. They’re typically used in grass or brush fires like ones that burn in southern Idaho.

In the movie Dusty trades his wheels for pontoons. David Perez, assistant air tanker base manager at NIFC says that makes him a plane known as a fire boss.

“One of the great things about the fire boss is it relieves bases of the logistical issue of having to load retardant,” Perez explains. “He goes out there on his own. He skims water and makes repeat trips back and forth to the fire.”

Wind Lifter and a similar heavy helicopter fighting last year's Beaver Creek Fire in Blaine County.

The movie actually has more characters that are cars than airplanes. It also has helicopters like Wind Lifter and Blade Ranger. Wind Lifter is a heavy helicopter which are used to move people and cargo as well as too drop water and retardant.

Blade Ranger leads Disney’s fictional firefighting team. David Perez says one of the most important roles of aircraft in firefighting is observing and communicating. Commanders on the ground can’t see the whole fire. Aerial observers can see movement in different parts of a fire and give that information to ground crews. 

Disney | Adam Cotterell
Cabbie, on the left, is similar to this P-2V based at NIFC in Boise.

Movie character Cabbie, a Korean War vet, takes smokejumpers inside fires. The idea that a 1950s warplane fights fires today is not a huge stretch of creative license on Disney’s part. The Forrest Service is in the process of transitioning away from what it calls its legacy fleet. These are planes like the P-2V on the tarmac at NIFC designed in the 1940s. The P-2V above is smaller than Cabbie but they use the same engine which is notorious for the amount of smoke it churns out. In Idaho they’re used as tankers not to carry smoke jumpers.

Dipper and an air tanker at NIFC

These two planes aren't exactly the same, but they do play a similar role in fighting fire.  The character Dipper is a water scooper. She can skim water from a lake as she flies. This type of plane does fight fires in Idaho, but doesn’t land in Boise.

The tanker on the ground at NIFC is a little bigger and carries retardant. Scoopers and tankers are important in keeping fires from overwhelming ground crews. Mike Ferris, a spokesman for NIFC, says they’re especially useful because they can get to fires soon after they start.

“The incident commander on the ground will recognize that maybe he could use some air support,” Ferris says. “Then he’ll order in an air drop and that drop may take out the heat and the spread of that fire and they’ll be able to catch it in the initial stages.”

The Forest Service has 23 tankers available this year and more than 100 helicopters. The service doesn't own its firefighting planes but instead contracts with private companies like Neptune Aviation.

Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio
This DC-10 air tanker at NIFC is getting some work done between flights.

One thing at NIFC you won’t see in the Disney movie is the DC-10. Assistant base manager David Perez says it’s easy to imagine this plane as a movie character. It has a nose, the eyes are in the cockpit and the paint job even suggests a mouth. If it were a person, it might play football.

“Well, he’d be a big fella. But this big fella’s fast,” Perez says.

This repurposed passenger jet is the pride of the Forest Service’s next generation fleet. It has three external tanks that can drop a mile long ribbon of retardant.

Talking about cartoon characters may seem frivolous as fires rage in Idaho and across the country. But Perez and Ferris hope the movie will help people understand the important role planes and helicopters have in fighting fires.

"It's sparking a whole other generation of young aviators and fire fighters that will want to get involved and help out," Perez says.

Follow reporter Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam | Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio