Contact(s): Amy Baumer

The Central Idaho Dispatch Zone is at VERY HIGH Fire Danger. 


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For most of the 20th century, any form of wildland fire, whether naturally caused or otherwise, was immediately suppressed.  Standards regulating wildfire suppression in the 1960s changed because ecological studies recognized fire as a natural process that was necessary for new growth.  Today, policies supporting complete fire suppression have been replaced with those that encourage wildland fire to be used as a tool.  For example, the tool can reduce a source of fuel for a fire (biomass), recycle nutrients into the soil, and regenerate the vegetation, which can enhance plant and animal diversity.  Values such as merchantable timber, grazing allotments, recreation impacts, as well as potential economic impacts to the surrounding area in addition to other applicable considerations for the area are taken into account when fire managers decide whether or not to use wildland fire as a tool.

Fire management activities within wilderness are executed in a manner compatible with overall wilderness management objectives.  Preference is for using methods and equipment that cause the least alteration of the wilderness landscape, disturbance of the land surface, disturbance to visitor solitude, reduction of visibility during periods of visitor use, and adverse effect on other air quality related values.  “A priority for the Shady Fire is for the firefighters to interact with recreationalists to help share how to learn to live with fire while ensuring a safe recreational experience near an active fire area,” said Kyle Severe, former Incident Commander of the Shady Fire.

The lightning caused Shady Fire was reported the evening of July 10, 2019.  The fire is located approximately two (2) miles east of Seafoam Guard Station in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness on the Middle Fork Ranger District.  The Shady Fire is in close proximity to the wilderness boundary and is surrounded by the 2012 Halstead Fire.  The fire area consists of heavy fuel loading, and contains numerous snags (a standing dead tree or part of a dead tree).  Active fire behavior has been observed throughout the incident with uphill runs, group torching, short-range spotting, and fire backing down slopes.

Operations for a wilderness fire are logistically a challenge.  Firefighters were initially based out of Cape Horn Guard Station.  The base operation was then moved to Challis when the fire area received nearly an inch of rain at the end of July/first of August, which decreased fire activity.  With the current warming and drying trend, firefighters are again based out of the Cape Horn Guard Station.  Firefighters are monitoring the fire’s forward progress and assessing values at risk; including mining and Forest Service infrastructure.  A point protection strategy (a wildfire response strategy, which protects specific assets or highly valued resources from the wildfire without directly halting the continued spread of the wildfire) to minimize exposure to fire personnel while protecting identified values.  The strategy takes into account exposure to firefighters, values at risk, impacts to area user groups, and wilderness values.  The selected point protection strategy was determined to best balance protection of values and firefighter safety along with administration of the wilderness and its resources in the Wilderness Management Plan.

A wilderness is recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.  An area of wilderness is further defined to mean an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed to preserve its natural conditions.  The Wilderness Act states there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.  The use of motorized equipment and mechanical transport is only allowed for in emergency situations, such as fire management, where there is an inescapable urgency and temporary need for speed beyond that available by primitive means.

Fire managers’ goal is to allow fire to play its natural role in the ecosystem while preserving wilderness character and maintaining access to popular areas that contribute to our sense of place and local economy.  This requires a delicate balance of maintaining public and firefighter safety while still providing visitors with the wilderness experience they came for.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest understands the inconvenience that fire can cause to forest visitors.  Smoke, closed roads, and closed trails are all examples of short-term impacts to visitor/user experience.  However, living with fire involves making short- term sacrifices to offset long-term and potentially devastating impacts in the future.

The impacts of escalating wildfires in many regions, the lives and homes lost, the monetary cost of suppression, and the damage to ecosystems, have led us to the conclusion that sustainable coexistence with wildfire is absolute.  Climate change and continued development on fire-prone landscapes is and will continue to be a challenge.

When recreating in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness travel plans should be flexible, call the local Ranger District office for current conditions before you go, as well as a safe place to go (a safety zone) when fires are burning.  Know Before You Go! Contact the Salmon-Challis National Forest for current fire information in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. 


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