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Posts published in “Day: August 22, 2019”

The wildland-urban interface


A lot of people have the dream of a cabin in the woods: peaceful, close to nature. But fire is a part of nature. Most folks woodsy cabin dream doesn’t feature a 50-yard cleared “defensible zone”. But hey, it is your property. You should be defending it.

Back when I fought fires I couldn’t believe all the man-hours spent by Forest Service crews protecting cabins in the wilderness. I’ll never forget the sight of a rolled over tanker truck after a direct retardant hit from a C 130 on a fire in the chaparral in California.

All this to protect a dilapidated shed in the bottom of a canyon.
As the Nethker fire up near Burgdorf Hot Springs in Idaho County slowly grew in the last couple weeks, some home owners got the word from the Forest Service that “structure protection” was not their priority. It seems the shared agreement between Idaho County and the USFS had not been renewed. When the property owners appealed to Idaho County officials for support Commissioner Skip Brandt gave them the news:

“People who choose to live where there are no tax or subscription based fire protection districts and where it can be difficult to get insurance must realize that there are risks involved and that a key component of private property rights is personal responsibility.”
He’s right. Folks can form fire districts, vote to tax themselves and spend the money they collect from themselves according to district governance. But I’m not sure I’d want to pay my taxes for a rural cabin I cleared around when my neighbor let the pine needles pile up on his shingle roof. But that gets around to how you structure your governance.

People come to these agreements with sewer districts, water districts, highway districts. Sometimes sharing a cost for a valued service is worth it. But expecting to be rescued as the brush burns closer to your wood pile is too big a stretch for me.

The State of Idaho has shared agreements with both the USFS, Bureau of Land Management and other entities. This shared agreement means if a fire starts on BLM land and they dispatch resources, when the fire spreads onto Idaho State land and they keep fighting it, they will send a bill to the state for these expenses. I guess Idaho County Commissioners saw no real up-side for sharing in these expenses. I have no opinion about that decision. But I sure agree with Commissioner Brandt not sending the cavalry to save every threatened structure.

Maybe I’m biased by a family history.

My grandfather Henry had ranches along the rugged Wildhorse River near Brownlee Dam. It was the end of haying season and the second cutting was stacked, the fields were stubble and it was a dry August. He thought the fire started down by No Business Creek where some fishermen had been that morning. He, Grandma Helena and his hired hand plowed furrows around the haystacks and they tried to beat back the flames with wet gunny sacks. The Basin Ranch was surrounded by BLM and Forest Service land so a plane came over in the afternoon and dropped a stick of jumpers up above the house a quarter mile from the slowing flames. No wind had kicked up, it was looking like things would be OK.

But the plane lost an engine as it circled and couldn’t climb out of the canyon. It came back around and tried to land in the 400-acre hayfield. But it nosed down and tumbled, killing both pilot and copilot and now extending the fire for another couple hundred acres off to the west and north. Henry only lost a couple haystacks. The house and barn were OK. He never had much good to say about fishermen after that.

Living off by yourself demands some self-sufficiency. It’s hard to build shared resources when you can’t see the lights of your neighbor.