Wildfires this year have burned fewer acres of rangeland in southwest Idaho compared to last year and far below the average for previous years.

A lighter load of grasses and other fine fuels is one of several likely reasons, said Jared Jablonski, Boise district fire information officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The district through Sept. 23 had 68 fires. The 60 human-caused fires consumed 844 acres while the eight sparked by lightning burned 795 acres.

In 2020, the district had 61 human-caused fires that burned 4,923 acres and six lightning fires that burned 2,226 acres.

Jablonski said the combined total of human- and lightning-caused fires averages 89 for five years, 99 for 10 years and 103 for 25 years.

Acres burned by both types of fires averaged 25,825 for five years, 92,719 for 10 years and 74,969 for 25 years.

“We didn’t see as robust a fine-fuel grass crop this year to carry fires more quickly,” he said. This year’s crop received a little shot of moisture and grew some in early spring, and then went through prolonged dry conditions that resulted in “short, stubbly grass in some areas.”

The conditions that stalled the grass crop also dried larger-diameter fuels at higher elevations, contributing to peak forest fire season arriving early.

Lightning fires in the Boise district were well below average this year and in 2020, Jablonski said.

“We usually average 25 to 35 lightning fires a year,” he said.

BLM in recent years directed more training, equipment and other resources to cooperators like rural fire departments and rangeland fire protection associations — who are closer to where many fires originate.

“Now we have cooperator resources — more of them, and they are able to get to fires quicker and help keep them small,” Jablonski said.

BLM also has been doing more work near roads, such as creating fuel breaks in cooperation with counties and the Idaho Transportation Department, he said.

Vegetation is removed, shortened or thinned to create fuel breaks. They are designed to help reduce fire spread and flame heights while improving firefighter access.

“And we continue to work on wildfire prevention and education. The more the public is aware, the fewer human-caused fires we see,” Jablonski said.

People need to stay cautious — monitoring campfires and extinguishing them fully, for example — even as temperatures cool, he said.

“We’ve had a slow season, but there still is potential out there,” Jablonski said.

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