Each year as the Independence Day holiday approaches, the Mountain Home News takes time to remind people to remain extra vigilant when it comes to using fireworks. In addition to preventing injuries, my hope is to prevent people from accidentally starting range fires outside of the city limits and across the county.
However, this year's advisory comes at a critical time for communities across our county. Fire season -- what people typically refer to as Idaho's "fifth season" -- is showing signs of flaring up as southern Idaho continues to deal with unseasonably hot, dry weather.
We've been extremely lucky to date with only a couple of small-scale fires so far this season. However, my gut feeling tells me that we're bracing for what could be an extremely bad season following a mostly uneventful summer last year.
At the same time, I'm cautiously optimistic that we won't see the level of destruction in 2012 and 2013 when three major range fires wiped out hundreds of thousands of acres of private, state and federal land across much of northern Elmore County. While efforts continue to restore the land that sustained the most damage, it's going to take years -- possibly decades -- before these areas fully recover.
For those of us who've lived here long enough, it's not a question of "if" it'll happen but "when" it will and how bad it'll get. According to city fire chief Alan Bermensolo, this year's season began two weeks ahead of schedule due to the uncharacteristically high temperatures. It's just a matter of time before human carelessness or a lightning storm sets off what's becoming a very dry tinderbox of grass lands and sage brush.
While it hasn't become official as of press time, the fire chief expects to impose a burn ban in the Mountain Home area sometime before the Fourth of July holiday. If you try to burn something on your property, regardless of the reason, expect to pay a healthy fine.
Here's the bottom line: If you start a fire when the ban is in place, you could be held financially responsible for the costs of putting it out. Sometimes, those costs can exceed several thousand dollars depending on the severity of the blaze. So besides wiping out valuable wildlands because you were careless, you would end up wiping out your pocketbook as well.
As the fire season continues, let's all remember to remain extra careful when we're traveling on the desert or in the forests. In addition, if you choose to go camping or recreating in the mountains, make concern for fire one of your highest priorities.
That brings me to another subject near to my heart this time of year. With a little over a week remaining before we celebrate the Fourth of July, we expect many people in this community to celebrate with a bang -- literally. Sales of fireworks are expected to start next week in places like Mountain Home with people shelling out money for something special.
Unfortunately, there are those out there that don't want to follow state law, which limits people to shooting off "safe and sane" fireworks -- the ones that don't explode or fly more than 10 feet in the air. However, these individuals seem convinced that the Fourth of July just isn't complete unless they fire off a couple of "real crowd pleasers" from the comfort of their backyard or -- even worse -- outside city limits.
It's not really hard to get your hands on those types of fireworks. It's not even a black market sale. There are places across the state that carry them in plain sight. All you do is sign a piece of paper that says you agree to take them out of state and light them somewhere else.
That piece of paper simply absolves the vendor from any criminal liability and puts the blame squarely on those who bought them. But as history proves, there are some people that just don't care.
Instead of ruining the Fourth of July for everyone, come out to the city's fireworks show at the Desert Canyon Golf Course instead. Hosted every year by the city fire department, you'll have front-row seats to the greatest show in this part of the state. I think it's far better than paying the consequences of trying to improvise your own fireworks show and end up causing more trouble than you could possibly expect.
-- Brian S. Orban