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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.

Are Private Firefighters A Public Good Or An Unfair Perk For The Wealthy?

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Nick Mott
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Troy Kurth, CEO of Rocky Mountain Fire Company.

We’ve had a brutal fire season this year. The fires still burning across California have left more than 80 dead, and hundreds are still missing. Amidst the flames, a seemingly new trend has emerged – a two-tiered system with private firefighting resources for those who can afford them, and a system stretched thin for the rest.

In a barn outside of Missoula, a sign on the door reads: “STALLION Do Not Enter.”

“I decided to leave those [signs] up,” says Troy Kurth, CEO of the private firefighting company Rocky Mountain Fire. “I used to run up to 15 stallions each season.”

This is now where his crews prep for their 14-day assignments. They have the same baseline certifications as federal firefighters.

“We got out of the horse business, so we converted this horse barn into our fire cache and shop,” he says.

And he says those firefighting services are increasingly in demand. In 2017, the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $2 billion suppressing fires. And right now, the Camp Fire, the most destructive blaze in California’s history, continues to smolder.

On this day Kurth has four of his engines, and about eight personnel, on the ground in California

It’s all part of a new spin on a recent trend. Starting in the 1980s, the Forest Service began facing tighter budgets and more destructive fires so it started contracting with private firefighting companies to help out. Then more recently, the private insurance industry got involved and started offering private firefighting services on its home policies.

David Torgerson is president of Bozeman-based Wildfire Defense Systems — the largest private firefighting group in the country.

“This contribution from the insurance industry is here to stay,” he says. “It’s become the new norm.”

Torgerson says his company is now bigger than many state firefighting agencies. Like other private companies, Torgerson continues to contract with state and federal government but now he’s also working with about a dozen private insurers. Since 2008 he says his crews have responded to more than 550 wildfires that included thousands of private properties. They help fire-proof properties before blazes hit homes.

He adds most of the homes have been average value - not million-dollar mansions. And either way, he says, the more resources for these raging fires the better.

“Quietly in the background, these insurer programs have been growing and contributing in a strong way and creating better results to the extent possible and contributing to these incidents,” he says. “It’s really a win-win. It’s a partial solution.”

But how easy is it to get that coverage for the average homeowner? That’s not clear.

Insurance giant AIG describes its “ Wildfire Protection Unit ” as a “complimentary service.” However, according to its website those services are only available to its Private Client Group, which is “custom-designed for high-end properties.”

AIG did not respond to emailed interview requests.

Eric Samansky is with Chubb, another insurance provider that offers this service to all clients in fire-prone areas across 18 states.

“It’s complimentary so if you are a policy holder within those states all you need to do is enroll,” he says.

But there may be another problem with any kind of insurance in some of those areas.

“The affordability issue is one that is growing here in California. We’re continuing to see prices increase,” says Nancy Kincaid, a spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance. Her state has more homes in fire prone areas than any other region. And she says homeowners there are having more and more trouble securing coverage of any kind due to increasing premiums.

Carl Seielstad has been studying fire trends for decades as an associate professor of fire science and management at the University of Montana and a practicing fire incident commander.

He says this trend towards private firefighting is a reflection of our society.

“I mean that’s capitalism, right?” he says. “That if you have assets to be protected and you can pay for protection, that you would pay extra for the protection that you get.”

Whether it’s fair and equitable is more complicated, he says. For one, nobody’s keeping track of the industry and who’s using the services. However, “even the perception that fire management plays favorites – whether it’s fair or not – erodes confidence in the fire management enterprise,” Seielstad says.

And he’s not just worried about the insurance industry protecting individual properties. It’s also the private money flowing into state and federal fire suppression. He wonders:

“When does private enterprise start dictating how fire management gets done?”

Fire and forest management is already an ecological and political issue, so what happens, he says, when profit comes into play too?

The private firefighter industry continues to grow. According to the industry’s trade group there are more than 150 companies employing more than 12,000 crew members.

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.