We know the Smokey Bear saying by heart: Only you can prevent forest fires. But every year, nationally, around 80% of wildfires are caused by humans. That jumps to more than 90% of fires when you look at what the Idaho Department of Lands has responded to this year. It could be a thrown cigarette, a campfire left burning, dragging chains, parking on dry grass. Or as we go into the holiday weekend, sparks from fireworks. The list goes on.
They say accidents happen. But this year, there is no room for mistakes. The public is moving in greater numbers to Idaho’s outdoors. Temperatures are soaring, and 80% of Idaho is currently in drought, with that percentage and drought intensity expected to grow. Our beautiful state is at risk of burning up.
The reminders to prevent wildfires are hard to miss, be it from the Idaho Department of Lands or our partner agencies. Among them: Make sure your fire is dead out. Don’t drag chains or drive vehicles on dry grass. Be careful when target shooting. Don’t use illegal fireworks. There are too many reminders to include here.
However, despite the abundance of these messages, and the ever-ready online resources, brochures, news reports, social media posts, and pleas to prevent wildfires, human-caused fires still occur in alarming numbers. They outpace lightning-caused fires nearly every year.
So, given all of this, who can reverse this trend? Only you.
Only you can prevent a fire that burns through your favorite camping area by making sure your campfire is out before you leave.
Only you can prevent cabins and homes from going up in flames by properly using fireworks in clear areas and following local fireworks restrictions. [Editor’s note: Fireworks are currently banned in Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and unincorporated Blaine County, as well as on federal BLM and Forest Service land.]
Only you can prevent the thick smoke of raging wildfires from filling the skies by not throwing a cigarette out a car window.
Only you can prevent a wildland firefighter from suffering heatstroke while battling a blaze in 100-degree heat by not parking on dry grass and sparking a blaze.
Only you can keep our wildland fire crews home safe and reserve them for the wildfires that start beyond our control.
Only you can save the life of a wildland firefighter who may be among those to respond to a human-caused wildfire.
The Idaho Department of Lands is ready for this wildfire season. We have increased our staff and our wildfire resources. We are stationed strategically to aggressively fight fires when they are first reported. Controlling fires quickly, before they grow, saves valuable natural resources and tax dollars. We have stopped 90% of fires at 10 acres or less.
We are doing our part to protect Idaho from wildfire. But we need your commitment to help prevent accidental fires. We need you. Only you.
Dustin Miller is the director of the Idaho Department of Lands.