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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.

Faces Behind The Fires: Hotshots

Faces Behind The Fires: Hotshots

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.”

St. Goddard supervises the Chief Mountain Hotshots. They are like the special forces of fighting fire – there are only around 100 hotshot teams in the country – and Chief Mountain is one of the only all-native crews.

This summer the team will spend weeks in the smoke and heat, hiking up mountains, digging fire lines and cutting down trees. They have to keep in shape and St. Goddard runs his crew with the discipline of a military unit.

“Like Marines,” he said.

Hotshot crews are some of the most highly-trained and in-shape firefighters in the world. They run seven-minute miles and can work 16 hours a day on a fire.

They were first called “hotshots” back in the 1940s because they fought the hottest parts of a blaze.

St. Goddard said it’s like battling a monster.

“A monster that you haven’t seen what it can do,” he added.

Fighting these “monsters” has become more dangerous in recent years.

While fires are a normal and healthy part of the environment in the Mountain West, the climate is getting hotter, more homes are being built in fire-prone areas and the forests are thicker and drier. This means wildfires are bigger and more unpredictable. 

“I try to get myself as ready as possible,” Dakota Running Crane, 23, said.

He’s a shy guy with a wispy, blonde goatee. He said too much booze and partying dog a lot of young men in rural Montana.

But those bad habits need to end at the chain link gates outside of Chief Mountain’s headquarters because the hotshot team doesn’t tolerate lateness, drinking or drug use.

“It’s nice to be on a crew that don’t do any of that stuff,” Running Crane said. “We don’t have to worry about another person being not in their right mind.”

Back in his office, St. Goddard said the Chief Mountain Hotshots are one of the biggest employers of young men and women on the reservation.

They only hire natives and they can promise good pay and the chance to travel all over the country.

But you’re also gone from your family for weeks which puts pressure on a marriage. A lot of guys end up divorced.  You’re also putting your life on the line.

St. Goddard said it’s like back in the pre-settlement days.

“The Blackfeet used to go out and hunt or go on war path and be gone for days,” he said. “And some of them wouldn’t come back. We’re no different. In the modern days we go out for 14 days and some of us don’t come back.”

Over the past decade, nearly 200 wildland firefighters have died while on duty. Chief Mountain has only ever lost one crew member but the risk hangs like the misty, blue clouds over the trail where St. Goddard is running.

He’s been working this job for three decades.  As he finishes the first lap of his run he tells me he’s trying to hit a seven minute mile.  

He needs to meet this goal again to continue as one of the country’s oldest hotshots.

“I always say, ‘I want to quit.’ It would’ve been this month I could retire,” he said. “But I’ll go this far with them, might as well go another year.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

The Chief Mountain Hotshots are one of the only all-Native American elite firefighting units in the U.S.
Nate Hegyi / Mountain West News Bureau
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The Chief Mountain Hotshots are one of the only all-Native American elite firefighting units in the U.S.
Steve Bullshoe was a hotshot until a car accident left him paralyzed. Now he's the office administrator for the Chief Mountain Hotshots.
Nate Hegyi / Mountain West News Bureau
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Steve Bullshoe was a hotshot until a car accident left him paralyzed. Now he's the office administrator for the Chief Mountain Hotshots.

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