Managing Wildfire Before Smoke is in the Air
Fuels treatments help firefighters control wildfires and save homes
On June 28, 2012, a human-caused fire ignited near a neighborhood in Pocatello, Idaho. High temperatures, strong winds and low humidity quickly pushed the fire into thick juniper stands and the neighborhood, threatening numerous homes. Fortunately, the BLM had created a nearby fuels treatment consisting of thinning highly flammable juniper trees with chainsaws, which allowed access for heavy equipment to create dozer lines between the fire and nearby houses. Firefighters were also able to prevent the fire from jumping a nearby highway, keeping the fire contained. Unfortunately due to temperature, weather and vegetation conditions, 66 homes were lost to the fire. Firefighters determined, however, that many more homes could have been lost if the fuels treatment had not been completed prior to the fire’s start.
Cox’s Well Fire
In the spring of 2012, the Upper Snake Field Office implemented its first phase of the Big Desert Fuel Breaks Project. The project involved mowing a 100-150 foot swath of approximately 30 miles of vegetation adjacent to road corridors throughout the Big Desert resource area in eastern Idaho. BLM Idaho fuels crews created the project to provide a fuel break along roads, providing firefighters with additional safe opportunities to control wildfires. The other goal of the project involved protecting remaining intact sagebrush habitat, which is rapidly dwindling due to wildfires and other factors, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assign the Greater Sage-grouse a “warranted but precluded” listing as an Endangered Species.
The Cox’s Well Fire ignited on the afternoon of July 10, 2012 within the National Park Service’s portion of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Strong, gusty winds and high temperatures combined with low humidity created erratic fire behavior, which quickly spread the fire in many directions. Fire crews were able to use the previously created fuel breaks to safely and effectively implement a back burn operation, which prevented the fire’s spread. The fire’s total size ended up being 4,575 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Upper Snake Field Office and 3,225 acres of BLM Monument lands located within the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Firefighters determined that the fire could have grown much larger if the fuels treatment had not provided an opportunity to safely conduct back burn operations, resulting in a slowing of fire behavior and ultimately, control of the fire.
| || A view of the fuel break shortly after it was created. You can see the shorter vegetation about 100-150 feet from the road.|
| || This picture shows the fuel break’s effectiveness during the Cox’s Well fire. Once the fire reached the fuel break, firefighters were able to manage it and conduct burnout operations safely using the fuel break as an anchor point. |
Grazing Goats Protect the Boise Foothills
In the spring of 2012, goats were strategically grazed throughout the Boise foothills, creating targeted fuel breaks along roads and near neighborhoods. In mid-June of 2012, a grass fire ignited near the Warm Springs Mesa neighborhood. The fire was kept small by a homeowner with a garden hose until Boise City firefighters arrived, which would not have been possible if the goats had not created a significant fuel break near the neighborhood. On September 9, another fire ignited in the Military Reserve area, near neighborhoods and a popular recreation area. Again, the fire stayed small due to the lack of vegetation nearby, a result of the targeted goat grazing, and firefighters were able to contain the fire.
| A view of the area before the goats grazed.|
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A view of the fuel break after the goat grazing. You can see the goats’ effectiveness in removing many of the flammable fuels near the road.
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