Idaho’s three megafires

Halstead fire
Halstead fire as seen from Yankee Fork Rd near SunBeam, August 30, 2012, Photo by Crig Daughtry

There are currently three uncontained wildfires that are larger than 100,000 acres. For purposes of this discussion, we will call 100,000 the minimum size for a megafire.

All three of these fires are in Idaho, and two are on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Those two are the Mustang Complex and the Halstead Fire and are under the direction of Jim Loach’s Area Command Team. The third fire is the Trinity Ridge Fire on the Boise National Forest.

map of Mustang, Halstead, Trinity fires
Map showing the location of the Halstead, Mustang, and Trinity fires, September 5, 2012. (click to enlarge)

Here are some stats we compiled from InciWeb and the National Situation Report about these three megafires:

Megafire stats - September 5, 2012

The cost to date for these three fires totals over $73,000,000. They are tieing up 2,653 firefighting personnel. We don’t know what the weather and fuel conditions were when the fires were first reported, or what the commitment was to an aggressive initial attack strategy. Maybe there was no chance in hell of catching them early. But if initial attack had been successful on these three fires, over $71,000,000 could have been saved and 2,653 firefighting personnel could be doing something else. In some cases a significant investment in initial attack resources, both ground and air, can save large sums of taxpayer dollars later.

It is not likely that any of these fires are going to be contained or controlled anytime soon. Now that we are into the month of September, I imagine the Incident Management Teams are looking carefully at the fire and weather history of the area, hoping to have a weather related fire season ending event in the near future.

Predicted containment dates on large fires, especially megafires, are frequently picked out of the air (or some other more intimate location) and are relatively meaningless if they are farther out than a few days. In this case, the predicted containment dates for the three fires range from September 30 to October 16. In case you’re wondering which year, they all selected 2012.  Whew!

The IMTeam on the Mustang Complex dashed hopes for a quick containment with this statement on their InciWeb page:

Containment [of 16%] will not change in the near term future due to current point protection strategies.

Abandoning containment for point protection may or may not be temporary, and is usually due to extreme weather and/or fire behavior, extreme topography, a shortage of firefighting resources, management direction to be less aggressive in suppressing the spread of the fire, or a combination of some of these.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Idaho’s three megafires”

  1. You can view animated progression of the Halstead here:

    And the Trinity Ridge Fire here:

    You can scrub the time slider back and forth as well as pan and zoom the map. To change the base layer map use the “+” button on the right. Additional fires are up a directory level at

    These maps are designed to run on interactive physical sandtables ( used in community outreach, training and incident command.

  2. You might find the animated progressions interesting for the Halstead Fire:

    And the Trinity Ridge Fire:

    You can move the time sliders back and forth. You can also change the base-layer map with the “+” key as well as panning and zooming. Additional fires are one level up at For running these maps on an interactive physical sandtable, check out

  3. Good question, James. And that’s the problem. The debate is whether we should spend a lot of money on IA, hoping and praying that it’s not a waste. Unfortunately IA always proves to be a bargain. It amazes me, and many others, that cost per acre is still looked at as a good thing. $10,000.00 per acre for a one acre fire= bad (read waste) $37,000,000.00 for a 145,000 acre fire is money better spent???? It’s still $10,000.00 or $37,000,000 dollars! You can’t afford to NOT spend. I mean $3,000 dollars per acre sounds so much better, right?

  4. The problem is where do we get the money for the resources for the initial attack? I’d love to see USFS, State Forest services, and local fire districts get the money and people to do stronger initial attack, but where is it going to come from, especially in the current political climate?


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