I've been a bit on edge the past few days each time I saw a thunderstorm approaching Elmore County. While most of them showed plenty of bravado as the thunder heralded the approaching storms, they tended to pack plenty of wind and some rain along with a bit of lightning.
So far, we've been lucky in Elmore County. Since the first of these storms graced us with their appearance late last month, we've had reports of multiple lightning strikes but only one that actually generated smoke from a small range fire.
I guess we can thank the accompanying rain for stopping that fire before it had a chance to do anything significant.
The reason why I'm a bit nervous is we got a much-needed break from large-scale range fires in recent years. The ones in 2013 alone caused a significant amount of damage across a massive stretch of northern Elmore County that could take years to repair.
We've already gotten a small taste of what this year's fire season could pack if we let down our guard. On May 27, for example, fire crews rushed to extinguish a small blaze along the eastbound side of the interstate just north of town.
Thanks to the efforts of our firefighters, that blaze got knocked down fast and didn't get close to any of the houses along that stretch of the interstate. While the exact cause of that fire was undetermined, it did start along the highway itself, meaning that it was human caused.
This year's fire season starts off with Elmore County and areas across southern Idaho dealing with significantly lower snow accumulation in the mountains combined with less-than-expected rain this spring. This could translate into a very busy summer for our fire crews.
Over the past four years, we've seen nearly a third of the county literally go up in flames. At one point, I had to wonder if there was anything in the county left to burn.
The Pony and Elk Complex fires in 2013 both started after thunderstorms blew through the area with lightning triggering both fires. Unfortunately, we don't have the ability to tell Mother Nature how to act.
But we do have the ability to control other factors, including the circumstances surrounding the Trinity Ridge fire the year prior that burned 150,000 acres of prime national forest land. That blaze, which directly threatened the communities of Rocky Bar and Atlanta, started after a utility all-terrain vehicle caught on fire along a remote mountain road.
It's preventing fires like this that I wanted to address. With the weather starting to heat up and more people planning on heading to the mountains, it's imperative that all travelers remain "fire wise," regardless of their destination.
Just last week, the Bureau of Land Management gave the "all clear" for people to return to some of the areas that sustained heavy damage during the Pony and Elk Complex fires. However, I need to emphasize that these areas remain off limits to motorized vehicles and will likely stay that way until next February at the very earliest.
Let's enjoy these areas once again, but let's do it smarter this time. After all, it takes is a moment of carelessness for one person to ruin all of the recreation outlets we enjoy.
Regardless of whether people head out on to the desert or up into the mountains, I'd urge all travelers to include some fire prevention measures with their vacation plans.
This includes keeping a close eye on campfires to make sure they are fully extinguished before leaving the camp site.
When driving all-terrain vehicles or other vehicles, especially those with catalytic converters, make sure they avoid areas with any type of brush. Sparks and heat from these vehicles can easily ignite the brush.
While I understand that people enjoy sighting in their weapons or simply go target shooting when they travel, please do it safely. I've lost count how many times I've had to write a story regarding a range fire that started because someone decided to use exploding targets instead of traditional targets.
For those that smoke, I'd recommend that people do it in their vehicle when possible. Our county has seen its fair share of range fires that likely began because someone carelessly discarded a cigarette butt by tossing it out a window as they drove somewhere.
Here's the bottom line: A person that starts a range fire is legally responsible for the costs of battling the blaze. One careless spark could financially bankrupt someone after they're held liable for paying for the destruction of someone's property, providing that no one is injured or killed in the process.
Fire season is rapidly approaching. As we continue to enjoy the natural wonders of southern Idaho, let's do it safely, because we've been lucky so far this year.
-- Brian S. Orban