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Environment
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.

How Boise's 1959 Mudslide Led To Lasting Protections For City's Foothills

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The Idaho Statesman
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The Idaho Statesman/Boise Public Library

It was August, 1959. Boise was having one of its typical hot, dry summers. A fire had just burned 9,000 acres in the nearby foothills. Then on August 20, a huge storm system dumped heavy rain on the Treasure Valley. One inch of rain fell in an hour on the burn scar. 

The water overwhelmed the hills and washed away tons of topsoil. A Forest Service video made several years after the event, tells the story.

“The flood brought destruction to Boise’s eastern residential section and business district,” the video’s narrator explains. “Property damage ran high.” 

East Boise was covered in a delta of mud. No one was killed, but some people asleep in basement bedrooms had to escape flowing mud that ended up being 10 inches deep in some spots. The government’s video shows residents standing in their yards shoveling mud, and bulldozers pushing tons of topsoil that used to cover the nearby hills. Boise was a mess.

Preventing Future Disasters

While homeowners cleaned up, leaders of several federal agencies were worried. If such a thing could happen once, it could happen again. Pressure to find a solution increased when two more smaller floods and slides occurred over the next few weeks. 

Soon, officials with the Boise National Forest, the Soil Conservation Service and the Bureau of Land Management announced what they called “The Boise Front Watershed Restoration Project." They would dig trenches along the contours of the hills to catch heavy rains and prevent future mudslides. Work began that October and lasted several years. The project created the series of grooves in Boise’s foothills that that can still be seen today.

“In a lot of ways it was a major wake up call," says Boise historian Jennifer Stevens. She’s studied and written extensively about Boise’s foothills. Up until the 1950s, Stevens says, the foothills really weren’t thought of as much an asset. They’d mostly been used to graze sheep. But that had left the hills void of much of their native vegetation. Homes had also popped up in the area, sometimes in locations that weren’t good for the land.

Stevens says it was clear the effects of the fire and the storm were made worse by human practices. Soon, a handful of people who’d never rallied around an environmental cause, were doing just that.

“It mobilized them to start putting pressure on our elected officials to create polices that would put some regulations on the kind of building we were doing in those areas,” Stevens says.

Years Later, Science Results In Action

The government championed its collaborative effort to put grooves in the foothills as essentially fixing the problem. Stevens says the pace of haphazardly building in the foothills actually increased in the early 1960s. 

Fast forward to the spring of 1973, when a Boise State geologist by the name of Kenneth Hollenbaugh wrote there was an active landslide area in the foothills east Boise. Stevens says that report galvanized the movement to protect the foothills because it brought hard science to the discussion.

“You had this event in 1959, but you could kind of explain the event away,” she says, referring to the fire and rare deluge. “But as soon as you get science in there saying ‘you know this is active landslide and we can’t build on every square inch in the foothills'.”

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Credit The Idaho Statesman / The Idaho Statesman/Boise Public Library
Even Idaho's political elite couldn't escape 1959's deluge of flood water and mud. Here, Gov. Robert Smylie digs out.

A Disaster’s Legacy

Stevens thinks rules that limit foothills development in Ada County passed as late as the 1990s, can even be traced back to a movement that began when Boise cleaned up nearly a foot of mud and debris more than three decades earlier. As the region’s population has swelled with newcomers in recent decades, she thinks the mudslide’s role in shaping how Boise’s foothills look today, is under appreciated.  

“I don’t think a lot of people know about the ‘59 mudslide,” Steven says. “And I don’t think that a lot of the people who live in the foothills have a great awareness [of] foothills planning and sort of the history behind that. I think at the same time, part of the reason people move here is because our foothills aren’t completely covered with houses. There’s still a lot of open space up there.”

Here's the U.S. Forest Service's video explaining the 1959 flood.

Don't miss: Adam Cotterell reports on the science behind the slide and the chances a similar event could happen today.  

The Boise Pubic Library, the City of Boise and Boise State University's Albertsons Library contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio