Fire season fizzles out

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

Autumn weather has officially set in to the relief of firefighters across the state. The Idaho Department of Lands released its final statewide fire update Sept. 15, marking the end of the season.

Overall a total of 84,278 acres burned across Idaho this year, 62,377 of which were under U.S. Forest Service management. The IDL extinguished all major fires within its jurisdiction by the time of the report, and there are no fire restrictions currently in place.

Area residents watched the Ridge Creek Fire north of Hayden Lake closely, as it was the largest blaze this far north. As of Sept. 19, the fire continued to smolder at 80% containment, according to status updates released by the Forest Service through the InciWeb fire map. The cause of the fire is listed simply as “human.”

The Ridge Creek Fire affected approximately 4,474 acres, and though some brush continues to burn, officials said there’s little risk of it spreading further.

“Suppression repair work is nearing completion, which includes removing hazard trees along roadways, installing water bars, grading road surfaces, and using excavators and hand crews to place debris back on exposed surfaces to minimize erosion,” officials stated on the InciWeb update.

Managing the yearly wildfires comes at a steep financial cost: IDL spent approximately $16.86 million on fire-related expenses this year, according to the final update. Officials estimate that the IDL will be reimbursed $2.3 million, which the department spent helping other agencies fight fires outside of its jurisdiction.

Idaho did not have the resources it needed to combat the flames this year. Among other expenses, the IDL had to contract additional aircraft and fire engines to support its firefighters.

The Boise-based Idaho Capital Sun reported Sept. 20 that the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners approved the IDL’s $90.3 million budget request for 2025 — a 4.7% increase due to the cost of the statewide fires. The request will go before the Idaho House of Representatives and Senate for approval.

If accepted, the IDL will purchase additional engines and tech equipment — like laptops and software — as well as increase employee compensation by 1% for current and future positions. The larger budget includes an additional $250,000 to cover operating costs, which have grown more expensive with inflation.

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