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Running Head: FIRE

Fire Threat in the High Desert: Too Much Natural Fuel Sparks Potentially Deadly Consequences

Outline

Thesis statement: There is still a significant threat of wildfire engulfing Mountain Home, Idaho

I. 4,000 acres burn down after weekend wildfire

II. Causes of wildfires

   a. Geographical terrain

   b. Weather

   c. Unchecked vegetation

Main body

Upon first consideration, the tranquil city Mountain Home, Elmore County, Idaho, seems like a perfectly safe place to live, and the inhabitants of the city thrive in a clean and nature friendly environment next to an Air Force base. However, if the terrain and weather conditions of the area are taken into proper consideration, it is clear that a threat lies imminent. The city is in the middle of the Snake River Plain, wild brush fire presents as a clear and present danger. The spark that could set off a fire can be as small as a spark from a power line, which is exactly what happened recently. According to intelligence, a bird flew into a power line, causing sparks to set off a wildfire which tore through almost 4,000 acres (Atchison, 2006). Luckily, despite the severity of this fire, it missed Mountain Home, though the threat is obviously still apparent, and it is only a matter of time before one engulfs the city itself.

The first issue to be studied is the terrain of the environment surrounding Mountain Home. The terrain is perfect for wildfires; a massive flat valley is surrounded by a ring of mountains. One of these mountain basins in the range of Rocky Mountains is where the Snake River Plains is. The mountains act as a funnel for winds, which can rise up to sixty miles per hour. All vegetation in the area is stripped of moisture by the naturally dry desert and heat, and the high winds. This means that vegetation will burn very easily; helping to start wildfires from the smallest sparks, and the high wind gives the perfect incentive for the fire to travel quickly.

In keeping with the wind, other weather conditions also add to the danger of wildfire. The rainy season in and around Mountain Home happens in the spring, and is characterized by very high levels of rain and flooding. During this season, reservoirs fill up to maximum levels, encouraging water loving species of brush, such as sagebrush to grow quickly. After the rains there are often lots of very large, very tall sagebrush, and if left unchecked, these dry out in the summer and become essentially desert matches with will readily burn. So the terrain is flat for easy wildfire growth, dry enough to begin large wildfires, and the weather is perfect for the spread of wildfires, and the growth of easily burned brush.

While there are threats that cannot be controlled by us, there are things that can be controlled. The problem is that control over vegetation is non-existent for the area surrounding Mountain Home. The sagebrush grows wild and unchecked after the rainy season, without any controlled burning or removal. Plants grow longer and bigger, giving more and more fuel for potential wildfires. Even if pockets of sagebrush are isolated, tall grasses provide the medium for fires to jump across. If this type of vegetation was also addressed, then the spread of wildfire would be limited, but this has not been done. Large spaces between sagebrush areas used to be desert, but now they are full of species of wild grass and sagebrush. This presents a major problem.

As a consequence, the three primary threats of wildfire damage to Mountain Home are too many to ignore. In the summer, storms and bad weather provide lightning but little rain, which is perfect for beginning a wildfire, without rain to quell the sparks. Mountain Home should take this threat seriously, with a program developed with the Bureau of Land Management, Elmore County. Prevention methods need to be developed, such as the maintenance of vegetation, especially in close proximity to the city itself. Controlled burns are an effective method of prevention, and provide a way to eliminate brush before the wildfire conditions of the summer could being a chain of events leading to the complete eradication of the city. The citizens of Mountain Home need to be made aware of the dangers, and support the control process, and reduce the chance of wildfires by being careful with naked flames and other such causes of fires.

References

Atchison, A. (2006 June 25th). Bird sparks fire, flames threaten homes. NorthWest Cable News.

Retrieved online June 26th, 2006.