Originally published May 24 on KTVB.COM.
Hazy skies loomed over parts of the Treasure Valley last week, caused by smoke from Canadian wildfires — a sign that wildfire season in Idaho isn't far away.
As the weather warms, firefighters and government agencies are preparing for the battle against wildfires this summer.
And there are ways you can prepare too.
The Idaho Department of Lands is one of several government agencies that responds to wildfires across the state. They offer a Wildfire Alerts service to help give Idahoans up-to-date info on wildfires, when minutes can make all the difference.
"We're starting to talk in terms of fire years instead of fire seasons, we really have to be prepared," Robbie Johnson, public information officer for the Idaho Department of Lands, said. "For Idaho, right now we have seen small fires, they haven't gone anywhere, we've been able to get them out. But it's already time where those wildfires can start, and particularly at a time where people are going out and recreating."
The Idaho Department of Lands protects 9 million acres across the state from wildfires. That area includes state land, which manages resources and generates revenue; industrial land, used for industries including timber; private forests and the wildland urban interface — area where buildings meet undeveloped land.
"That's where more and more people are building homes, they have their cabins. And that's a huge area that we're very concerned about as we grow as a state," Johnson said.
In addition to protecting lands, the Department of Lands has a way to help protect you.
"We get wildfire information from all sorts of sources these days," Johnson said. "So, what we're trying to do is really bridge the gap and fill that need for real specific locations within the areas we protect from wildfire."
The department has a Wildfire Alert service that you can sign up for online at idl.idaho.gov that sends text or email updates about wildfires near you.
"You can sign up for alerts in a specific area near where you have property, you can get alerts that cover all of the protection areas, we have all the areas we're protecting from wildfire," Johnson said. "You get that, you sign up for it, and then when we respond to a fire, we get that information to you. So you have that timely information to protect yourself, decide if you need to leave."
May is Wildfire Awareness Month, and this week marks the 'Week of Wildfire Preparedness and Prevention' in Idaho.
In addition to staying up to date with wildfire alerts, there are also steps you can take to help prevent wildfires this summer.
"Right now, make those decisions so you're ready. For example, when you're going camping, when you're going to use a campfire, do those things now — have a shovel, bring a jug to fill with water so you can make sure that fire is out," Johnson said. "People leaving campfires not completely extinguished, and just taking off and not putting them out, that's a huge risk that we see for wildland fires, it happens all the time."
The Idaho Department of Lands recently sent a crew of 13 to Alberta to help fight wildfires in Canada.
The department also says Idaho is pretty unique in how dry the state can get, and how much wilderness Idaho has — both reasons for why the Gem State is so prone to wildfires.
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