Vicki Markley remembers the scene vividly. The owner of Pinehurst Cabins & RV Park stood on her doorstep two weeks ago as the Rattlesnake Creek Fire approached from across U.S. Highway 95 south of Riggins, Idaho.
“It was burning right across the street,” she said. “Helicopters were dipping right out of the (Little Salmon) river here.”
Neither people nor property in the immediate area were hurt, she said, and the fire eventually reversed course and moved away from the resort property.
But as of Aug. 21 the Rattlesnake Creek Fire remained only 28 percent contained, and the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center pegged it at 8,135 acres. It’s one of thousands of fires burning in a busy Western wildfire season.
Through Aug. 21, 41,563 fires have burned more than 6 million acres across the West.
For the same period of 2017, there were 42,977 fires that burned nearly 6.48 million acres.
Jennifer Jones, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman at NIFC, said that on a 1-to-5 scale the current preparedness level is 5.
This year, Australia and New Zealand senior firefighters and U.S. active-duty military soldiers arrived at the start of August rather than near the end of the month, as in the past, indicating staff and resources were stretched thinner, earlier, she said.
“It also feels different to have so much fire ‘on the board’ in such a widespread area,” she said. For example, Colorado and Wyoming still have active fires, whereas those states usually aren’t in play to a large extent this time of year.
“It’s rare for us to go into the end of July and first part of August and still be engaged with active fires from central Texas to Alaska and everywhere in between,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for Forest Service operations at NIFC.
Since resources are committed where they would not be under normal circumstances for the time of year, they’re less available for traditional deployment in the West as the season progresses and peaks, she said. And this year’s Western season started fairly early, thanks to heavy fuel loads.
This year has seen numerous small and mid-sized range fires in southern Idaho. Steve Acarregui, NIFC-based national wildland fire cooperator coordinator for U.S. Bureau of Land Management fire and aviation operations, works with Rangeland Fire Protection Associations in Idaho and Oregon. RFPAs, which include ranchers and other property owners among their trained members, coordinate with BLM fire operations supervisors.
“They’re probably a little busier than last year overall, but I would not say they are exponentially busier,” he said. Since RFPAs started coming onto the firefighting scene around 2012, they have helped many range fires get under control sooner and at smaller acreages, he said.
“There’s no doubt we were dryer this year,” said Mike Guerry, chairman of Three Creek RFPA serving the southern half of BLM’s Jarbidge Resource Area in Idaho and northern Nevada.
“We had large fuel loads. The rain was timely for the growth, but not late enough to maintain the moisture in that fuel,” he said. Summer winds also exceeded norms.
Active large wildfires as of Aug. 21 in six Western states:
• 187 Gilman, 12 miles northeast of Monument, 400 acres at last report, percentage contained zero or not listed.
• Columbus, 15 miles east of Tiller, 10,518 acres, 35 percent contained.
• Jennie’s Peak, 14 miles south of Fossil, 36,000 acres, 10 percent contained.
• Kinzuna Complex, 12 miles east of Fossil, 619 acres at last report, percentage contained zero or not listed.
• Klondike, nine miles southwest of Selma, 72,074 acres, 32 percent contained.
• Lonerock, seven miles northwest of Condon, 5,000 acres, 30 percent contained.
• Milepost 6, six miles south of Madras, 1,500 acres, 75 percent contained.
• Miles, five miles northeast of Trail, 35,455 acres, 39 percent contained.
• Natchez, 15 miles southeast of Cave Junction, 20,275 acres, 70 percent contained.
• Seal, 14 miles west of Condon, 15,500 acres, 20 percent contained.
• Skyline, 15 miles south of Ironside, 300 acres, 20 percent contained.
• Stubblefield, seven miles northeast of Condon, 18,000 acres, 50 percent contained.
• Taylor Creek, 10 miles west of Grants Pass, 52,588 acres, 95 percent contained.
• Terwilliger, five miles southeast of Blue River, 125 acres at last report, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Watson Creek, 13 miles west of Paisley, 25,800 acres, 5 percent contained.
• Coyote Creek, 15 miles south of Jordan Valley, 598 acres, fully contained.
• Arctic Jim, two miles southwest of White Swan, 340 acres at last report, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Bannock Lakes, 14 miles southwest of Stehekin, 470 acres at last report, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Boyds, three miles west of Kettle Falls, 3,278 acres, 49 percent contained.
• Cougar Creek, eight miles northwest of Manson, 38,924 acres, 40 percent contained Aug. 21.
• Crescent Mountain, 18 miles west of Winthrop, 26,181 acres, 34 percent contained.
• Horns Mountain, 19 miles north of Evans, 2,467 acres, 20 percent contained.
• Maple, 10 miles north of Hoordsport, 1,879 acres, 41 percent contained.
• McLeod, eight miles north of Mazama, 15,313 acres, 5 percent contained.
• Meninick Pass, five miles south of White Swan, 5,537 acres, 90 percent contained.
• Miriam, 15 miles east of Packwood, 3,448 acres, 30 percent contained.
• Copper Mountain, four miles east of Eastport, 229 acres, 25 percent contained.
• Cougar, five miles east of East Hope, 5,524 acres, 26 percent contained.
• Kiwah, 49 miles northwest of Challis, 15,437 acres, 1 percent contained.
• Mesa, four miles south of Council, 34,700 acres, 89 percent contained.
• Rabbit Foot, 14 miles southwest of Salmon, 34,518 acres, 5 percent contained.
• Rampike, 23 miles northeast of Kellogg, 2,000 acres, percentage contained zero or not listed.
• Rattlesnake Creek, five miles southwest of Riggins, 8,135 acres, 28 percent contained.
• Sharps, six miles east of Bellevue, 64,853 acres at last report, incident no longer active.
• Smith Creek, 19 miles west of Bonners Ferry, 870 acres, 5 percent contained.
• Surprise Creek, 18 miles east of Athol, 2,300 acres, 19 percent contained.
• Artesian, four miles north of Roberts, 1,980 acres at last report, fully contained.
• Call, 22 miles northeast of Bakersfield, 370 acres, 50 percent contained.
• Carr, four miles south of French Gulch, 229,651 acres, 88 percent contained.
• Donnell, five miles west of Dardenville, 35,000 acres, 51 percent contained Aug. 21.
• Front, 30 miles northeast of Santa Maria, 900 acres, 29 percent contained.
• Hirz, 11 miles east of Lakehead, 17,467 acres, 17 percent contained.
• Holy, seven miles northeast of Rancho Santa Margarita, 22,885 acres, 91 percent contained.
• Lions, seven miles southwest of Mammoth Lakes, 11,606 acres, 75 percent contained.
• Mendocino Complex, five miles south of Potter Valley, 404,532 acres, 74 percent contained.
• Mill Creek 1, four miles southeast of Weitchpec, 1,500 acres, 26 percent contained.
• Stone, 14 miles northwest of Adin, 23,221 acres, 12 percent contained.
• Broad, three miles northwest of Carvers, 543 acres, 83 percent contained.
• Sheep Creek, 15 miles north of Battle Mountain, 57,417 acres, 50 percent contained Aug. 21.
• Bacon Rind, 17 miles north of West Yellowstone, 2,045 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Beaver Creek, 32 miles southwest of Anaconda, 2067 acres, 8 percent contained Aug. 21.
• Brownstone, 25 miles east of Condon, 2,214 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Coal Ridge, 28 miles north of Kalispell, 280 acres, 2 percent contained Aug. 21.
• Davis, 10 miles northwest of Yaak, 6,205 acres, 8 percent contained.
• Garden Creek, two miles north of Ronan, 2,052 acres and 60 percent contained.
• Gold Hill, 13 miles north of Libby, 930 acres Aug. 21, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Goldstone, 12 miles south of Jackson, 9,191 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Howe Ridge, 10 miles north of West Glacier, 11,172 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Monument, 42 miles southwest of Ennis, 6,613 acres, 13 percent contained.
• Pauola Ridge, three miles northwest of Essex, 364 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Shellrock, 25 miles north of Helena, 500 acres, 65 percent contained.
• Sterling Complex, 18 miles south of Eureka, 1,216 acres, 23 percent contained.
• Tenmile, 19 miles south of Eureka, 681 acres, 91 percent contained.
• Whale Butte, 45 miles north of Kalispell, 338 acres, containment percentage zero or not listed.
• Wigwam, 15 miles southwest of Ennis, 4,191 acres, 66 percent contained.