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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.

SPOTLIGHT: How One Woman Rose To The Top Of Wildland Firefighting

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Frankie Barnhill
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Boise State Public Radio
Beth Lund was a hotshot in the early 80s, back when female firefighters were almost unheard of. As a Type 1 incident commander, she's led the fight against some of the most complex wildfires in the country.

Beth Lund starts her day long before most people are done dreaming.

At 5 a.m., she’s out of her tent – coffee in hand – getting ready for a 6:00 a.m. briefing with her team at fire camp in Idaho City. Over the hum of generators, Lund takes the microphone on a wooden platform and addresses about 50 firefighters.

“Well, good morning," Lund says. "I see the group out here’s dwindling a little bit. So I think that’s a sign that some of this stuff on the southern end is getting wrapped up.”

She points to a big projected map of the Pioneer Fire behind her, and thanks her team for their hard work.

“One last thing: I hear a lot of people coughing this morning so go to the med tent, get some of that preventative stuff – make sure your folks are taking care of themselves and try to stay as healthy as you can. This is the time of year we’ve got to watch out for that, so take care of each other.”

Lund is one of 16 Type 1 incident commanders in the country, and one of only two women in that position. Type 1 incident teams deal with the nation’s most complex wildfires. At times she’s managed as many as 2,200 people fighting the Pioneer Fire, which has been burning in the Boise National Forest since July 18.

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Credit Inciweb
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Inciweb
The Pioneer Fire, which is burning in the Boise National Forest, is the biggest wildfire in the country as of September 1.

The 60-year-old started fighting fires when she was 20 – back when being a female firefighter was almost unheard of.

Lund has had experience in just about every facet of wildfire suppression and management. She worked on hotshot crews in her home state of California in the early 80s. She loved digging lines and hauling hoses, and didn’t mind working with men who often challenged her abilities.

“I don’t take it personally – I just say, ‘Well dude, that’s your problem. I’m doing my job and if you don’t like it, don’t watch.’”

It’s that quiet resolve – and ability to ignore big egos – that allowed Lund to climb the ranks. She moved to Lowman, Idaho and took a job with the Boise National Forest. She had her first experience on a megafire there, working the historic and destructive Lowman Fire of 1989.

Managing Fire By Managing People

Lund's job these days is still about putting out fires – mostly by managing people. She deftly navigates the different personalities she works with, both at the public meetings she leads in communities affected by wildfire, and back at fire camp.

Over at the airstrip at the far end of fire camp, Dave Matheny works with the helicopters as they make water drops on the 250-square-mile Pioneer Fire.

He says having a female incident commander is a cool thing – because it’s so rare.

“She the only female IC I’ve ever worked with," he says. "She has this great ability to set this calm tone and tenor for the incident. She’s pleasant. Very capable.”

Three years ago, Lund’s leadership was on display at the Beaver Creek Fire near Sun Valley. She worked closely with Bart Lassman, the Wood River Fire and Rescue chief. He attended regular briefings with Lund, and would talk strategy with her.  

“She could be very serious when it was time to be serious," Lassman says, "then she was open, compassionate to local groups handing out supplies to the firefighters and she was very thankful to the community.”

Lassman says he’s worked with both male and female incident commanders, and that Lund’s gender doesn’t make a difference when it comes to her competency.

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Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
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Boise State Public Radio
"Womens Only" porta potties are a relatively new addition to large fire camps. Nationally, only 15 percent of wildland firefighters are women.

But Lund’s gender does make a difference to Mercedes Martinez, who works in radio communications at the Pioneer Fire.

“It feels really awesome," says Martinez. "It feels empowering – working under a woman – especially in a Type 1 team. It’s a big job.”  

Martinez is 25, and this is her third wildfire season. She says she wants to make fire her career, and seeing people like Lund at the top gives her encouragement.

Without meaning to, Lund has become a role model for young women in fire – including her own daughter Allison, who’s been a member of the Boise Hotshots for 10 years.

But when Lund looks around at the pipeline of younger women in wildland firefighting, she struggles to name any on the path to becoming a Type 1 incident commander. She says that has more to do with life choices than abilities and access. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 15 percent of firefighters are women.

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Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
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Boise State Public Radio
Mercedes Martinez says working for Lund is an empowering experience. The 25-year-old hopes to make fire her career.

“You hear a lot about the glass ceiling, this that and the next thing," say Lund. "But I think if you really want something, it’s out there and you can get it.”

She’s wrapping up her second stint at the Pioneer Fire this summer, and then will head back to her desk job with the Forest Service in Utah. The firefighting boss is not anxious to retire yet, and says she would like to work at least another couple of seasons.
 

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio

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