- Associated Press - Monday, August 14, 2017

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - A new Rural Fire Protection Association has formed in the wake of one of the most devastating wildfires to hit eastern Idaho.

Aug. 21 marks the one-year anniversary of the ignition of the 83-square-mile (215-square-kilometer) fire. It also marks the date of the solar eclipse, which will bring a swarm of visitors to the area.

Officials say they have significant worries about a potential repeat wildfire, the Post Register reported (https://bit.ly/2wJaLwo ).

A year later, the Henry’s Creek Rural Fire Protection Association has been formed, recognized and is integrating farmers and ranchers into the wildfire response system. It is the ninth Rural Fire Protection Association in the state.

So far, 19 farmers and ranchers have joined on to the Henry’s Creek Rural Fire Protection Association, completing 40 hours of firefighting instruction.

“We’re quasi-officially firefighters,” Rural Fire Protection Association chairman Robert Hoff said. “As farmers and ranchers, we usually fought fire with our farm equipment. We had to fight it with tractors and dozers and disks. We know how to use it, and that’s been recognized by the other organizations. But we don’t know how to coordinate manpower.”

Rural Fire Protection Association members soon will carry emergency radios that will allow farmers and ranchers to be increasingly integrated into official fire response.

“I think radio communication is critical, not only for informational but for safety purposes,” Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Sarah Wheeler said. “They know the area. They know the two-tracks. They know the weather. They have a very ingrained sense of what’s going on in that environment.”

The Rural Fire Protection Association plans to begin negotiating memorandums of understanding with area firefighting forces, in an effort to ensure that there’s a rapid response to fires in the eastern Idaho highlands.

Hoff said the biggest remaining hurdles for the Rural Fire Protection Association are getting more manpower and more equipment such as water trucks of their own. The agency is funded through membership dues, but there is also the possibility of getting state grants and surplus firefighting equipment at reduced cost.

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