New method will help fight flames that haven't even begun yet

MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho (KBOI) - It's a new defense tactic for one of the most fire prone areas in the Treasure Valley. The Bureau of Land Management is teaming up with the Idaho Transportation Department and Mountain Home's Rural Fire Protection Agency to dig a barrier miles long for flames that haven't even ignited yet.

Sparks from cars on the stretch of I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home cause about nine wildfires each year. So the crews are putting in a 13-foot wide fireline parallel to the interstate, to cut down on fire risk for both nearby homes and cars on the road.

"We get a lot of fires started from traffic, flat tires, accidents, cars overheating, trailer chains, that sort of thing," said Chris Cromwell, BLM prescribed fire and fuel specialist.

Those fires can move off the road and make a run for nearby homes. And when other fires are started by lightning out in fields near the interstate, drivers are also at risk.

"You have smoke over the road that's obscuring vision and all kinds of traffic hazards that we're trying to avoid," Cromwell said.

So to cut down fire hazards for both sides, the government agencies are digging a disc line in between the road and nearby communities over a ten mile stretch from the Ditto Creek overpass to the Simco Road exit on the westbound side of I-84.

A tractor with discs on the back pulls out any vegetation along the way, leaving nothing but a big line of dirt that's intended to stop fire from crossing over.

"Private land owners have been putting it around their own private property," Cromwell said. "This area's seen a lot of fires, and so they're doing their best to solve that problem on their own."

And now they're getting help from the government. The stretch between the Ditto Creek overpass and the Simco Road exit is the first place local public agencies have dug a line to try and cut down on fire hazards before fires start along the interstate.

Once the dirt firelines are put in, the BLM says they only have to be maintained once a year every year afterward. If current stretch is found to be effective in stopping the spread of nearby wildfires, crews will continue to keep it up and even add more along other stretches of I-84 in upcoming years.

In addition to the breakline, ITD is also spraying chemicals and mowing the land on both sides of I-84 from Boise to Mountain home to keep fire fuels at a minimum.