Idaho Wildfires Cataldo Smoke 7-9-21

A section of Interstate 90 is down to one lane due to heavy smoke near Cataldo, Idaho, caused by fires in the area, Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

Support Local Journalism

Officials have limited outdoor fires across eastern and southeastern Idaho while prime fire weather sets in.

From Pocatello to Idaho Falls, and surrounding rural communities, outdoor fires will be banned starting at midnight Thursday. The Stage One Fire Restrictions were issued by the Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District, the Idaho Department of Lands, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

The agency cited “lingering high temperatures and lack of moisture” across the eastern half of the state in a news release Wednesday. In Idaho Falls, temperatures in the low to mid-90s are expected over the next few days, according to the National Weather Service.

“East Idaho,” which includes portions of counties along the Idaho-Utah border, counties along the Idaho-Wyoming border to the east and counties along the Idaho-Montana border to the north, “ is now in Extreme Fire Danger across the lowlands and the highlands are in Very High Fire Danger,” the release said.

Separately, burning or igniting explosive material is illegal on federal BLM lands from May 10 to Oct. 20. That includes explosive shooting targets. Idaho Falls fire officials said that someone ignited a fire this week in the foothills by shooting targets. Target shooting caused three fires in 2018 in Bonneville County, including one in nearly the same location that the 2016 Henry’s Creek Fire started, the Idaho Falls Fire Department said in a news release.

Exceptions to the regional burn ban include fires within approved structures in recreation sites and smoking inside enclosed vehicles, buildings or designated recreation sites, or stationary in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of flammable material. Land within city boundaries is also exempt.

Other exceptions listed are:

— People with permits that authorize the burns that are banned.

— People using devices that have liquid petroleum or liquid petroleum gas, such as a propane campfire. They must be used in an area that has been cleared of flammable material.

— Officers of state, federal or local government, or members of organized rescue or firefighting crews “in the performance of an official duty.”

The consequences for violating the burn ban depend on which agency enforces it. Representatives for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management said their agencies could levy fines up to $5,000 for people, up to $10,000 for organizations and/or up to six months in prison. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Marin Sanborn said violators could face a misdemeanor charge and be legally responsible to pay for the cost of suppressing the fire. The man who started the Henry’s Creek Fire accidentally while using fireworks was ultimately ordered to pay $1.7 million.

Bonneville County Commissioners banned most outdoor burns last week, but their ban does not apply to state or federal public lands. Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and held legally responsible to repay costs caused by the damage, including firefighting efforts, said sheriff’s office spokesman Bryan Lovell.

Bracing for a severe wildfire season, Gov. Brad Little declared a state of emergency and tapped the Idaho National Guard.

In central Idaho, crews are battling a fire that has burned 19,000 acres, as of Wednesday morning.

“My fear is that we will have some of these great big mega-fires that start creating their own weather, like the one that is over in Oregon, where I think a lot of this smoke is coming from, that basically endanger communities, they endanger firefighters, they endanger precious wildlife and watershed capacity,” Little said this week, according to the Associated Press.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.