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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.

American Climate: A Shared Experience Connects Survivors Of Disaster


Four months after the Camp Fire incinerated his home and the entire nearby town of Paradise, California, Randy Larsen sat on the steps of his RV and struggled to process what he'd survived.

He remembered seeing the smoke and fire in Paradise across the canyon and the traffic streaming down the Skyway.

"I still hadn't pieced it all together," he said. "I mean, I think I realized that there was an evacuation from Paradise, but I didn't assume it was on fire. I assumed it—I don't know what I assumed that day. The idea that the town had burned up ... was nowhere in my imagination."

His inability to comprehend the disaster he'd endured—a wildfire that jumped the length of a football field each second—was echoed by survivors of Hurricane Michael, the first Category 5 storm to hit the Florida Panhandle, and some of the most destructive flooding to inundate the Midwest.

In the year-long documentary project American Climate, InsideClimate News reporter Neela Banerjee and videographer Anna Belle Peevey found shared experiences in the aftermath of extreme weather and climate-related disasters.


In dozens of interviews, victims and survivors used a common language of loss, describing their communities in terms normally reserved for war zones. Sounds evoked what they'd lost—exploding propane tanks, beeping smoke detectors in piles of rubble, chainsaws cutting through downed trees.

Often, they drew strength from the animals they cared for. As emergency planners learned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, some Americans love their animals so much they're willing to risk their lives for them.

A country accustomed to taking in refugees from around the globe now found itself dealing with climate refugees made here in America. The sheer destructive force of wildfireshurricanes and river flooding had rattled assumptions about the limits of disaster as climate change has increasingly eroded people's sense of security across the American landscape, the interviews showed. 

Read the essays on the Common Language of Loss, the Sounds that Trigger Trauma and the Bonds Between People and Animals.

And there was a relentlessness to calamities: As reporters found victims of Hurricane Michael and the Camp Fire still in the throes of recovery in March, the devastating floods struck Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

Some survivors acknowledged climate change as a influence in the disasters. Others didn't.

Randy Larsen saw the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people in Butte County, as an obvious consequence of a warming planet.

"I grew up in California," he said. "We've never had wildfires in November. We can fix all the power lines that PG&E was perhaps negligent in dealing with, we can fix all of those things, but we're still going to have this tinderbox of a forest. Unless we do something about climate change."

Louis Byford, a farmer in Corning, Missouri, whose home fared only slightly better in the flooding than Larsen's had in the fire, was having none of that.

"There's been changes taking place since God created earth," he said. "We are simply kidding ourselves if we think we can control anything. It's just part of God's creation. The cycle. The come and go, the ebb and flow, whatever."

Still, Byford found himself haunted by the calculus of loss, struggling to rebuild a farmhouse his wife wouldn't live in anymore. "Where does that leave me?" Byford asked. "I told you I'm a determined man. I'll give this compassion and patience. I may be a bachelor living here. It's a burden that I can't get rid of, every day."

Scientists point out that there is broad consensus that global warming will fuel more wildfires, floods and intense hurricanes.

Research shows that climate change has made California hotter and drier and more prone to wildfires. Summertime average temperatures in the state have risen 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s, nearly all of it over the last 50 years.

The northern Great Plains are expected to see more drought, intense rainfall and flooding as the planet warms. The 12-month period leading up to February 2019 was the fifth-wettest stretch of weather in Nebraska since 1895.

The oceans are now warmer than they have been in 125,000 years, providing more energy to fuel the destructive power of hurricanes like Michael. 

Perched on the steps of his RV in Butte Creek Canyon, Larsen sees little reason for optimism over the long term. 

"I wish I could say this is the new normal, but that would be profoundly optimistic if it stayed at being just this bad," he said. "And I haven't seen any research that suggests that it's going to level off. The best research says maybe what? Two degrees (Celsius) increase by the turn of the century? That's super optimistic. I think these are the good ol' days, in terms of wildfire in California, and that's a bit heartbreaking."

Explore the American Climate project.

In the InsideClimate News documentary project American Climate, reporter Neela Banerjee and videographer Anna Belle Peevey share the stories of people trying to rebuild lives splintered by three weather-related disasters. Explore the videos and essays here

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