Idaho Governor changes his tune about wildland firefighters

Mustang Complex on the Challis NF in Idaho
Mustang Complex on the Challis NF in Idaho
Mustang Complex on the Challis NF in Idaho, August 23, 2012, USFS photo.

In 2007 Idaho Governor Butch Otter blasted wildland firefighters for basically following safety procedures too closely, which he and Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo said was the reason the 652,000-acre Murphy Complex fire was not suppressed sooner. Now according to an article in the Idaho Statesman, the Governor supports the current efforts of firefighters after he toured by helicopter some of the fires burning in his state. It is a very interesting article — here is an excerpt:

… [In 2007] Otter had been told by ranchers in the area that the [Murphy Compex] fire, which grew to 652,000 acres before it died out, could have been stopped. Ranchers had lost hundreds of cattle and access to grazing and they were convinced that had they been allowed to use their own bulldozers to cut line in the initial hours of the fire they could have stopped it.

Otter called the rules regulating firefighting “the don’t book,” during the press conference. He said relaxed rules could have allowed crews to stop the fire.

“I think we need to have more flexibility,” he said.

His and Craig’s remarks alienated the firefighting community who were facing fire behavior, they said, like they had never seen before. Conditions went beyond their ability to monitor and was dangerous.

Some recalled when a Salmon area rancher was burned over on his bulldozer when he tried cut a fire line in 2000.

Otter was expressing more than his opinion that day. He was influenced by a set of values that placed putting out fires as author Stephen Pyne described as “the moral equivalent of war.”


But some still cling to those beliefs as demonstrated in the safety report filed by a Montana Hotshot crew leader the day before Veseth died. He and his team saw numerous snags rolling down the steep hills and injuring inmate firefighters. People were fighting the fire without fireproof clothing just like the rancher bulldozer operator in 2000, desparately trying to put out the fire before it got out of control.

“We told him we had a list of safety concerns and mitigations if he would like to hear them,” the Hotshot wrote. “We read him our list and he said they have a different set of values and do things differently.”

Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Idaho Governor changes his tune about wildland firefighters”

  1. I have a home five miles up Indian Creek in Lemhi County and have been experiencing the Mustang Fire. I’ve had the place for 28 years and have had fires get close before but never this large. I’ve noticed how little air support was given to this fire and when I looked at the National Agency Coordination Center’s Incident Management Situation Report this morning I noticed how much more has been spent on the Trinity Fire than the Mustang Fire.

    According to the report the money spent managing the fires as of 08/25/2012 are:
    Trinity Ridge $172.27/Acre
    Mustang Complex $68.82/Acre
    Halstead $110.74/Acre

    I was evacuated a few days ago from my cabin, the ground crews they have working are good but the country is so steep there isn’t much they can do. I’d love to see more air support soon.

    Gov. Butch Otter and his wife Lori have a cabin in Featherville. Is this why the Trinity Fire has the National Guard and 14 helicopters and the Mustang Fire has 2 Helicopters?

    Think Maybe?


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