As the Independence Day holiday approaches, the Mountain Home News wants to remind people in this area to remain extra vigilant when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors, especially 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, the most recent of which happened right after the paper went to press last Tuesday. That came just one day after we had a separate fire just a few miles down the road in the Oasis Fire Protection District.
In both instances, the losses were minimal. The fires were rapidly contained and extinguished and -- most important -- no one got hurt.
Based on what I've seen so far, my gut tells me we're bracing for what could be an extremely bad season following a mostly uneventful summer last year. All the rain and snow we received earlier this year was a welcome relief compared to the drought conditions we've come to accept as the "norm" for this part of the state.
However, we can't forget that all that precipitation had a trade off -- it caused sage brush and cheat grass across the county to grow rapidly. Once all that vegetation dries out, it could provide the perfect fuel for a horrible fire.
I just hope we don'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 could take 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 Mountain Home Fire Marshall Brian Reed, this year's season is expected to be above normal across parts of southern Idaho, including Elmore County. That assessment was based off two reports he read from the Bureau of Land Management.
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 wasn't official as of press time, expect to see a burn ban in the Mountain Home area no later than July 1 -- just in time for the Independence Day holiday. If you try to burn something on your property, regardless of the reason, don't be surprised if you end up paying a 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. Consider yourself warned.
As the fire season approaches, 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 concerns 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.
I'm sure you're also supposed to wink your eye and cross your fingers behind your back when you sign that paper.
However, that signed document 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 around here 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