Mapping an important part of wildland firefighting

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SHOSHONE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) When a fire breaks out one of the first things firefighters have to figure out is how big it is and where it's burning.

They do that by consulting with people in the area and using local landmarks to draw a rough outline of where the fire is.

"Basically drawing lines on maps and getting an educated guess that way to get to dispatch," said Chase Krapf, a firefighter of 14 years and bulldozer manager with the Twin Falls Bureau of Land Management District.

Getting that initial size and location estimates are important.

"It's good for everyone to know where the fire is at," Krapf said. "We can be more effective that way."

This year Krapf and the rest of the BLM crews are using a phone app that makes communicating map information about the fires easier.

"We can upload GIS information more or less in real time, that way dispatch can see, other firefighters on the ground can see so it seems to be working really well," Krapf said.

Once the fire settles a little bit a crew will usually go on a mapping mission. They will ride or walk around the perimeter of the fire and get a more accurate read. They will sometimes do that with a helicopter as well.

Once they get a more accurate map of the fire the size estimate may change from when the fire was moving earlier. That's why sometimes the reported acreage will go down as the fire moves on. After all guessing how large a moving fire is isn't easy.

"It's incredibly difficult," Krapf said.

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