Firefighters expect hot weather to turn range grasses into tinder

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By Jay Michaels

MAGIC VALLEY, ID (KMVT) This year's cool wet spring means that irrigators haven't needed to use much canal water yet. But firefighters are just waiting for the heat to hit that will dry out rangeland grasses and give us laboratory conditions for this summer's fire season.

Right now cool wet weather is what's causing an array of greens, yellows, and purples on Southern idaho rangeland. But once hot weather finally gets here, these grasses will turn brittle, brown, and dry, and will catch fire very easily.

Acting Assistant Fire Management Officer Josh Brinkley says, "If you look outside, the purple we see is the cheatgrass that's curing. And once that cures, that will cause a problem for fire suppression, more extreme fire behavior."

Brinkley says right now the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise says that June will have a below normal fire season, but come July, they're expecting business as usual. That's because there will be plenty of dry grasses to burn. He says, "Once cheatgrass does cure, we've gotta be careful with vehicles off the road, our four wheelers, and any that can cause a spark out there can cause a fire.

Brinkley says if you're driving off the road in tall grass, it's very easy to catch grass in your muffler or catalytic converter, which can provide the spark that starts a range fire. He says fire season could start in the next two weeks, and we might have a repeat of last year, when the Long Butte Fire burned more than 300 thousand acres.

Brinkley repeats Smokey Bear's reminder that, "Only you can prevent wild fires." He says, "It doesn't look like it's gonna dry out soon, but let's make sure we're being careful out there, especially when things are drying out, 'cause we don't wanna have any human–caused fires out there."

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