Many areas across the Idaho Panhandle National Forest are currently closed due to wildfire activity. These closures are intended to keep both the public and firefighters safe. Members of the public who enter closed areas create search and rescue conditions that endanger themselves and the firefighters who must enter dangerous areas to look for them. For information on closure areas, including maps, please visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests homepage located at www.fs.usda.gov/IPNF.
In addition to area closures, it is also wise to understand that the forests are dryer and more prone to wildfire than at any other time since at least 1967. In these extreme conditions fires that start from lightning, or human causes, can spread rapidly. Exercising care with any heat source in the woods is critically important. Activities that usually don’t cause fires in normal years, like lawn mowing or driving OHVs through grassy areas, could easily start the next major wildfire in current conditions. In an extreme fire season, like the one we are experiencing today, extreme caution must be exercised to avoid extreme consequences.
Forest visitors aren’t the only people who should be keenly aware of fire danger and fire weather. Rural homeowners and those who live along the wildland-urban interface should also remain vigilant this fire season. Many communities in the Northwest have already experienced evacuations, and it remains possible that more evacuations could be needed before the end of the season. Those living near current wildfires, or in rural settings should have a plan in case of evacuation. Also, due to the extreme dryness and potential for fire spread, local residents should be prepared to self-evacuate if a new fire suddenly starts nearby due to lightning or other cause. Firefighters and law enforcement officers will always put life-saving at the top of their priorities and work hard to keep local residents apprised of nearby fires and potential evacuations, but citizens can do their part to provide for their own safety and decide to evacuate before an official notification is released.
The 2015 fire season in north Idaho has resulted in more fire on the landscape than anyone has seen since at least 1926. Firefighters are working hard to contain the many fires that are burning, but until there is a significant shift in the weather toward the frequent rains and cooler temperatures that characterize autumn in north Idaho, these fires are likely to resist any efforts to contain them. Until the fires are contained, members of the public can go to www.inciweb.nwcg.gov for the latest updates on the current fire situation.