© 2021 Boise State Public Radio

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact us at boisestatepublicradio@boisestate.edu or call (208) 426-3663.
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
What is the single most important question about COVID-19 you think needs to be answered? Submit it for a special Idaho Matters Doctors Roundtable in English and Spanish.
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.

Halstead Fire Near Stanley Expected To Burn Through October

halstead 3.jpg
Sadie Babits
Boise State Public Radio

Update: Saturday, August 4 The Halstead Fire is at more than 21,900 acres burning about 18 miles Northwest of Stanley. More than 330 people are now working on this lightning caused fire. It continues to burn through conifer forests and is moving through beetle killed trees. Update - Friday, August 3: After burning for one week the Halstead Fire has blackened more 18,500 acres in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Strong winds late Thursday spread the flames northeast away from Stanley. Fire officials say a shift in wind Friday afternoon gave Challis some relief from the smoke, but sent it toward Salmon.

halstead 1_0.jpg
Credit Sadie Babits/Boise State Public Radio
Cyclists watch smoke from the Halstead Fire.

Firefighters are staying out from in front of the fire for safety reasons. They are focusing on keeping it away from Highway 21 which has remained open. Officials say the Halstead fire will continue to burn until October unless heavy snow comes to the area before then. They do plan to maintain an active suppression effort to keep the fire from reaching the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and other areas that are important to the state’s tourism economy.  

Thursday, August 2: Fire officials will hold a public meeting in Stanley Friday night to discuss the growing Halstead Fire. The blaze is now more than 10,000 acres and is about 20 miles away from the popular summer destination town in the Sawtooth Recreation Area.

A national team took over firefighting operations on Wednesday.  At the meeting team leaders will share their strategy.

Right now, that strategy is to keep the fire away from Highway 21, a boy scout camp, and several ranches.  The camp was evacuated earlier this week.

Officials say the fire may burn for up to six weeks if there's no major changes in the weather.  Stanley has only suffered mild inversions so far.

The meeting will take place at 7 P.M. on Friday at the community center in Stanley.

Wednesday, August 1: The Halstead Fire near Stanley has grown to 5,000 acres.  

The blaze is heading northeast, away from Stanley.  Karen Dunlap with the Salmon-Challis National Forest says firefighters will hope to keep it that way.  

If the fire burns north, it can spread into wilderness area without threatening homes.  If it shifts too far east, roads used by firefighters would be closed.

A national team is now in place to assess the fire.  Dunlap says the extra help is needed.

"Those teams have a lot more experience with these tricky sports of situations and they're able to think of logistics and operations, tactics, that we might not think of here," Dunlap says.

Right now, there's no containment on the fire.

Highway 21 between Boise and Stanley is safe from the fire, as well as the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Tuesday, July 31: The Halstead Fire near Stanley has now burned almost 4,000 acres. Monday, it had only burned 60 acres. Karen Dunlap with the Salmon-Challis National Forest says it’s burning in difficult terrain. That means firefighters can’t work on the ground to put the blaze out.

Dunlap does not think the fire will be contained soon.

“It’s fairly early in the fire season for the Salmon-Challis so we have a lot of time that things could continue to burn,” Dunlap says.

She says at this point, firefighters are trying to herd the flames north, away from Stanley and the Salmon river.

“We’ve been able to try to keep things from impacting safety and allowing the public to be able to use the area around Stanley,” Dunlap says.

The town has enjoyed clear and beautiful skies today, say city officials. They have gotten several calls though, with tourists wondering if it’s safe to vacation around Stanley. So far, the answer is yes.

A few campers have been ushered out of nearby camp grounds though, including 200 boy scouts at Bradley Boy Scout Camp earlier this week.