Fires ignite one thumbs-up – and one down

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Firefighters throughout Kootenai County, our admiration burns for you.

Last Monday afternoon all hell broke loose north of Coeur d’Alene Airport. Listening to the newsroom scanner, it sounded like North Korea had let loose a batch of bottle rockets that were pelting our pristine prairie, where fires were popping up like the nasty critters in Whac-A-Mole.

It was impossible to stay ahead of the chaos as The Press deployed every available journalist northward for coverage. Yet through that blazing afternoon, firefighters methodically quelled each threat — eight or more small but potentially disastrous fires.

“These guys are incredible,” remarked Press City Editor Maureen Dolan, in awe of the job the firefighters were doing.

She was far from alone.

On the cdapress.com story of their battles with fires all afternoon, Louise O’Brien wrote this:

“It was so amazing to see the teamwork. Living close to the airport, and knowing the Northern Lakes fire crews are there, we feel proud & grateful for every one of them and the job that they do.”

What was far less amazing was the paucity of information given to the public about how all those fires got started. The Press received news tips from multiple sources saying a firefighting jet taking off from Coeur d’Alene Airport blew an engine, and that the blistering hot fragments ignited fires where they fell. By late Wednesday afternoon, efforts by the newspaper and Kootenai County’s commissioners, particularly Bob Bingham, resulted in a report of the probable cause of the fires finally being released.

Bingham and many others would agree that Kootenai County’s emergency communications have plenty of room for improvement. A concerning trend for the public is that an increasing number of taxing entities are relying on Facebook posts and rarely visited websites to share important information, if any information is shared at all. This complaint isn’t just from a newspaper charged with keeping citizens informed; media throughout the region are poised to get important information to the public promptly and accurately.

Monday’s incident was likely made more challenging because of all the agencies involved — local, county, state and federal. But the need for full-bore transparency and open communication with citizens should be a top priority for the people entrusted with the public’s need to know, particularly in emergency situations. As citizens, you should demand nothing less.

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