Fire Season Coming to Close, Some Tolls High

By Tom Bacon

The wild land firefighter's best friend - rain - is apparently drawing the curtain on the 2013 wildfire season. In terms of fire statistics, the season has been more mild than wild. But it took a ghastly toll in human terms.

As of this weekend, Washington and Oregon reported only one major fire each, and Idaho had six large fires. The Big Windy fire in Oregon near Grants Pass had burned through about 25-thousand acres, but was nearly 90 percent contained.

In Washington,  a blaze in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest was still listed as active, but it had been heavily doused with more than an inch of rain over the week end, giving fire crews a much-needed break. The largest fire in Idaho had chewed through about 30-thousand acres near Hells Canyon along the Snake River. but it, too, had gotten some rain and was about 80 percent contained.

Nationally, wildfires exacted a heavy toll of life. 50 firefighters were killed on the fire lines this summer, including 19 young men who died in Arizona when shifting wind suddenly rolled the flames over them.

But the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has tallied fewer fires this year - slightly more than 35-thousand - than in the 10-year average. And those fire burned fewer acres, just under 4-million acres, compared with nearly 8-million acres last year.

At one point last month, the Boise fire center raised its alert scale to the highest level because it was running out of people, equipment and money to throw at wildfires. But now the alert level has down to 2, and the firefighting force has been cut just about in half. Their own toil and sweat and welcome end-of-summer rain.
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