Posted: Oct 30, 2012 10:44 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
Updated: Oct 30, 2012 10:12 AM
SALMON, ID- Officials are crediting a community-driven forest health project in Idaho's Lemhi County for giving firefighters "a critical edge to limit the danger and damage done by this summer's Mustang Wildfire," according to a news release.
The Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group had been working with the Salmon-Challis National Forest to complete a forest-thinning project the in the Hughes Creek drainage, long before last summer's massive blaze.
"The fuels treatments in the Hughes Creek area implemented by the North Fork Ranger District were put to the test during the Mustang fire," said Danny Montoya, Mustang Fire Team Operations Chief. "I firmly believe that they provided us with the opportunity to steer the fire away from the Highway 93 Corridor and the Lost Trail Ski Area."
Fire Operations Chief Russ Long, who was assigned to the Mustang Fire as it moved into Hughes Creek, confirmed that when crown fire hit some of the units in the 13,000-acre Hughes project area, the fire dropped to the ground - which was exactly the intent of the treatments.
Long says the thinned areas gave firefighters options to help guide the fire away from Gibbonsville and lower Hughes Creek, where most of the homes are located.
The 2012 fire season broke records in Idaho. The Mustang Fire complex alone burned some 340,000 acres and covered much of eastern Idaho western Montana in a shroud of smoke through August and September.
The U.S. Forest Service reports that it cost $38 million to fight the Mustang Complex, and at its height some 1,100 fire fighters worked on fire lines.
The Lemhi County Sheriff had to evacuate some rural neighborhoods when fire approached, but no houses were lost.
Salmon Valley Stewardship, the Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and local contractors have been working with the Salmon-Challs National Forest to improve the health on thousands of national forest.
"We will never entirely fireproof the forest, but it's important to plan ahead and be good stewards of the land," said Gina Knudson, of Salmon Valley Stewardship.
"The success of Hughes Creek drives home the importance of doing what we can to safeguard communities and waterways and decrease the risk of losing property, wildlife habitat, and other important assets," she said.
"This project is a win-win for everyone," said David Allen, CEO and president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. "Not only did it have a positive impact for firefighters this past summer, but the on-the-ground work itself improved vital habitat, travel corridors, and forage for elk and other wildlife."