The National Weather Service forecast office in Pocatello issued a Red Flag Warning on Wednesday — the first of likely many to come.
With above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation predicted for Idaho this summer, and the fact that much of the state and western U.S. are already experiencing drought conditions, it could be a busy fire year.
“If we do get any fire activity locally, it could be extreme,” said Sarah Wheeler, fire information officer with the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center. “There’s potential there for hot, fast, big fires.”
Wheeler said the Great Basin Coordination Center is predicting an above-normal fire season in Southeast Idaho, which hasn’t happened in a while. Subsequently, fire officials are monitoring weather conditions and available fire resources even closer this year.
Wednesday’s Red Flag Warning was for the South Central Mountains/Raft River Region and included parts of Twin Falls, Cassia, Power and Oneida counties.
“Low humidity and gusty winds along with dry fuels results in critical fire conditions, where fires can spread quickly,” the weather service posted on its Facebook page. “Be extremely careful with open flames.”
The warning follows an unusually warm week in East Idaho, which saw new record highs in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Burley, Stanley, Challis and Rexburg last week. And weather officials say more high temperatures are on the way.
While they predicted showers and thunderstorms on Thursday, they expect hot and dry conditions to return to the area over the weekend and, possibly, more record-high temperatures.
As of June 1, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed about half of Idaho as having moderate to severe drought conditions. Portions of Custer and Blaine counties were considered extreme.
Madison County was still listed as normal, but most of the rest of East Idaho ranged from abnormally dry to severe.
Weather officials said Monday that Pocatello had received only 63 percent of its normal precipitation for the water year beginning Oct. 1, while Burley was at 60 percent, Challis was at 57 percent, and Bellevue was at 48 percent. Some cities faired better with Idaho Falls at 76 percent, Rexburg at 86 percent, Stanley at 81 percent and Island Park at 76 percent.
But all were still below normal, and some surrounding states are even worse off.
Most of Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico are in severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
With much of the West facing such conditions, Wheeler said fire resources could be stretched.
That makes it even more important for people to do their part to help prevent fires this season.
Wheeler says 86 percent of the 150 fires the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center responded to last year were human caused. People let chains drag behind their vehicles, lost tires, ignited fireworks and abandoned camp fires before they were completely extinguished.
“We really need individuals to be conscientious of their activities this year,” Wheeler said.
She urges people to check their vehicles before they travel to make sure they’re in good working order. And if they plan to light any campfires, she says they should carry the tools they need to properly extinguish the flames before they leave.
Wheeler also asks people to immediately report any unattended fires they see.
“The little decisions people make really make a difference,” Wheeler said. “People need to be aware of how their actions affect public lands.”