By Lyndsie Kiebert
Wildfire officials say June weather plays a large part in fire season outlook, and for the Idaho Panhandle this year, a wet and chilly June seemed a welcome relief.
However, a dry, hot couple of weeks to kick off July has made the June moisture less prevalent, meaning wildfires will likely be on the rise throughout the next couple of months, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Shoshana Cooper.
“We did receive much-needed precipitation in June; however, we have also had some extremely high temperatures in July which cause finer fuels to dry out quickly and dead fuel moistures to remain low, which increase the potential for fire activity,” she said, noting that the National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services is calling for “above normal significant wildland fire potential across the Kootenai Region and the Northern Idaho Panhandle” through September.
So far this year, Cooper said there have been over 60 wildfire starts in the Coeur d’Alene Dispatch Zone, which includes the Sandpoint Ranger District, and each fire has been contained in four acres or less.
A 15-acre wildfire called the Rock Creek Fire was reported about 10 miles north of Bonners Ferry near Highway 95 at milepost 517.5. A Boundary County Emergency Management report placed the fire in a bit of a canyon and that it was moving due to high winds. KHQ Local News reported several homes in the area have been voluntarily evacuated.
A smaller fire north of Priest Lake near the Salmo-Priest Wilderness area boundary on the Washington side was reported by the U.S. Forest Service. A line has been completed around the 1.5-acre fire, according to USFS. Containment efforts and mop-up is estimated to be completed by Friday.
Outside of the immediate region, nearly 120 acres and one home burned in a fire north of the Upriver Dam in Spokane early this week. The Spokesman-Review reported that nearly 800 Spokane County homes were evacuated, and firefighters completed a line around the entirety of the blaze Wednesday.
Another nearby fire is the Zulu Fire, north of Libby, Mont. The 20-acre fire was detected Sunday, and firefighters were still working to contain it Wednesday afternoon.
While summer fires are started by any plethora of causes, Cooper said the most easily prevented fire starter is a campfire.
“Drowning the fire with water, stirring it and determining it’s cool enough to touch is the best practice to ensure a campfire is out,” she said.