Idaho scientists and fire experts recommend skipping July 4 fireworks at home

This article was originally written by Nicole Blanchard and Sophia Charan for the Idaho Statesman.

Several Idaho researchers joined fire scientists across the country in urging people to avoid using fireworks this July 4 amid widespread drought and heightened concerns over the risk of forest fire. Their advocacy comes at the same time that Idaho fire management agencies have issued a similar demand, amid a worsening wildfire outlook for Idaho.

Moji Sadegh, assistant professor of civil engineering, was one of four scientists at Boise State University to sign an open letter with more than 100 experts urging the public not to use fireworks from any sort.

“There are just too many issues here, both from a natural and a societal perspective,” Sadegh said in a telephone interview.

Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, the Idaho Land Department and the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center held a press conference on Thursday asking people to opt for public fireworks over d ‘turn on theirs. Fire managers cited the same concerns as scientists and said Idaho has an above-average risk of major forest fires for the remainder of the summer.

SOME FIREWORKS ALREADY PROHIBITED, BUT SCIENTISTS URGE EVERYTHING TO EXTINGUISH

Some cities and counties in Idaho, including Ada County, have already banned fireworks in high-risk areas this summer. All types of fireworks are banned in unincorporated Ada County following a county committee vote in June. On the public domain of the Bureau of Land Management, even the possession of fireworks is prohibited.

However, “safe and healthy” fireworks like sparklers and smoke bombs are still legal within city limits. Idaho also allows the sale of aerial fireworks such as Roman candles, bottled rockets and firecrackers with a controversial “loophole” – buyers must sign a waiver promising they will not use the fireworks. aerial fireworks in Idaho.

In addition to the four BSU researchers, one from Idaho State University, one from the Idaho Department of Lands and eight from the University of Idaho signed the scientists’ open letter, which was published Wednesday in The Conversation. The call called on people to avoid all fireworks – even the “safe and sane” type.

“We are gravely concerned about the potential for humans to accidentally start fires – from fireworks and other activities – by adding ignitions to this combination of historic drought, heat and dry vegetation,” said writes the experts. “We urge people to avoid fireworks on July 4 and to avoid other activities that could start an unintentional wildfire.”

Nathan Mietkiewicz, author of an article cited by the letter and another signatory to it, said in a telephone interview that “if you look at human fires (caused) across the United States for the eve of July 4, July 4 and the day after July 4, humans are responsible for 6,502 ignitions in the only (wilderness-urban interface).

Data on fires in the interface between the wilderness and urban areas of the western United States clearly show the vacation anomaly.

These areas, where houses meet the foothills or the desert, are particularly dangerous for fireworks as the impact on houses and people can be disastrous, but there is also a lot of fuel to burn.

However, even people far from the wilderness should be careful. Mietkiewicz said the embers can travel nearly a mile “and still be hot enough to start another fire.”

Jared Jablonski, spokesperson for the Boise District of the Bureau of Land Management, said that since 2010 there have been 11 fires caused by fireworks in the Boise area.

He pointed out that even the “safe and sane” type of fireworks can be dangerous. “Sparks come out of these sparklers, the little flowers on the ground. They move and you get showers of sparks. After use, Jablonski encouraged adults to put out small fireworks in the water.

Reducing the start of fires will reduce the risk of igniting them.

“What you need for a big fire is a spark,” Sadegh said. “So if I, as a person – as a resident of Idaho – had decided not to use fireworks this year, that spark that I would have created could have caused a big fire. It’s just to save a big fire. And it is huge.

DROUGHT MONITORING IN THE UNITED STATES VIA NICK NAUSLAR, NIFC

US DROUGHT MONITOR MAPS SHOW THE EXTENT JULY 2021 DROUGHT CONDITIONS IN IDAHO (RIGHT) COMPARED TO CONDITIONS AT THE SAME TIME LAST YEAR.

FIRE MANAGERS: IDAHO FIRE RISK IS INCREASING

State and federal agency fire officials on Thursday presented a grim wildfire forecast for Idaho, calling it “the most difficult wildfire conditions we have seen in Idaho in a long time. “.

“Normally I buy a fair amount of fireworks for my family’s fun and celebration. This year is different, ”said Josh Harvey, fire management bureau chief for the Idaho Land Department, at the press conference.

The state, which had a normal wildfire risk in June, now has an above-average potential for major fires in the next two months, said Nick Nauslar, a meteorologist at the National Interagency Fire Center.

“A hot, dry spring really exacerbated the drought conditions in Idaho,” Nauslar said at the press conference. He said nearly 90% of the state is currently in a drought, up from just 10% last year.

According to the US Drought Monitor, all of southwestern Idaho is currently experiencing moderate to severe drought. Just a few weeks ago, parts of the region were considered simply “unusually dry”. Current conditions are more than five times the drought area seen around the same time last year, Nauslar said.

This means the fuels statewide – grasses, shrugs, and lumber – are also slightly drier than normal. Fuel humidity in southwest Idaho is currently around 7-8%, which is below average. Firewood sold in stores typically contains around 15% fuel moisture, Sadegh said.

Screenshot 2021-07-01 at 2.24.48 PM.png

NIFC

A forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center shows Idaho has above-normal potential for major wildfires in July 2021.

According to NIFC data, there is currently only one unconfined wildfire burning in Idaho: the 137-acre Fritzer Fire near Salmon. But many fires are burning in other states, which means that firefighting resources are already starting to run out.

Fire officials urged residents of Idaho to reduce their likelihood of starting a fire by making sure their vehicle is not dragging metal, ensuring their campfires are extinguished, and following firing restrictions in place for the summer months.

“If you have too many fires at the same time, we don’t have the resources to stop them,” Sadegh said. “If we can’t suppress all of these little fires when they happen, some of them can get really big. The result is just disastrous. “

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