SANDPOINT - Given the trend of hot, dry temperatures, Idaho Department of Lands officials have set the fire danger level to "high."
The upgraded fire danger level follows a week of high temperatures throughout North Idaho, contributing to dry forest fuels around the area. Anyone attempting to start a fire should take extreme caution to ensure all flames are extinguished completely and no pine needles or grasses spark alight in the process.
"All this hot weather has really dried us out," said Gary Weber of the Coeur d'Alene Interagency Dispatch Center.
When fire danger is set to high, it doesn't take much to spark a fire that can grow quickly, IDL officials said. In particular, unattended campfires and brush fires can easily escape individuals' control and, fed by the numerous dry fuels, spread very quickly. That's especially concerning considering that grass and brush has grown in abundance from the moisture of the spring and early summer.
In addition, individuals who have conducted burning operations this spring or last fall should ensure no smoldering debris remains in the area, IDL officials said. Extra caution is necessary for fires caused by people, because these tend to be located closer to homes.
Sagle Fire District personnel recommend creating a 30- to 100-foot buffer zone of fire-resistant landscaping and materials help improve their chances of staving off a spreading fire.
According to Weber, the fire season got off to a slow start this year. The region was relatively quiet for much of the early summer.
"Then, around two to two-and-half weeks ago, things started to get very busy," Weber said.
Wildfires first began blazing alight in eastern Washington, which contributed to extremely smoky air quality for several days in July. The situation was bad enough that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued a warning that the North Idaho air was unhealthy for young children, elderly adults and anyone with respiratory illnesses like asthma.
According to Weber, there's no telling whether August could hold similar air quality problems for the region. That all depends on fire activity in the next few weeks, as well as the wind patterns.
Residents can keep track of fire activity in their area by visiting the Coeur d'Alene Interagency Dispatch Center website at http://gacc.nifc.gov/nrcc/dc/idcdc .