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"Fire Plain" Mapping Strategy Up for Discussion

PHOTO: Plume of smoke from a fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
PHOTO: Plume of smoke from a fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
August 13, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - As firefighters spent another hot, smoky weekend battling dozens of Idaho wildfires, some researchers suggest that thinking about fires in the same way we think about floods could be helpful.

Just as there are floodplains near rivers, some areas could be seen as "fire plains" for their wildfire risks. The idea is to either limit development in those areas or make sure that it's done in the safest possible ways.

The idea will be proposed Wednesday at a U.S. Senate hearing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Dr. Tony Cheng, director of the Forest Restoration Institute, offers some perspective.

"Whether or not we continue to build and live in the mountains just isn't the question. I think people are always going to want to do that. It then becomes, 'Well, how do we do that the way that minimizes the impacts?' "

The "fire plain" research originated in Texas, another state that has seen its share of devastating wildfires. Cheng cautions, however, that even with advance knowledge of fire-prone areas, wildfires aren't as easy to predict as floods.

"Fires can occur just about anywhere, and we don't know where the point of initiation is going to be. We don't know how it's going to spread. It's all going to be very weather-dependent."

That's been the case in Idaho, where low humidity and gusty winds have made backcountry fires harder to control.

Information on "fire plain" research is online at

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID