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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of  September 5 - 11, 2001


Willow Creek fire destroys 9,000 acres

Wildfire is 12 miles west of Hailey

Express Staff Writer

What started out as a garbage fire contained in a 55 gallon drum turned into an out-of-control 9,000 acre wildfire on Labor Day afternoon.

Wood River Valley residents didnít feel the Willow Creek fire, but they smelled and saw the tons of smoke it put into the air Monday and Tuesday. Express photo by David N. Seelig.

The wildfire, reported around noon on Monday, started in the Willow Creek subdivision at the intersection of Willow Creek and Base Line roads in Camas County, between Fairfield and Hailey.

The wildfire started slow and was only 300 acres by 5 p.m. Monday. But toward sunset it took off and consumed 2,000 to 3,000 acres of public and private lands by 8:30 p.m., according to spokesmen for the Bureau of Land Management.

Willow Creek resident Dick Walton said the wildfire remained on the west side of Willow Creek Road until about 3 p.m., when "everything exploded."

The wildfire "flew across" from the west side of the road to the east side, he said.

"After it crossed the road, it was burning in every compass direction, mostly uphill," he said.

Walton was bow hunting near Rock Creek when he noticed the smoke. Knowing it was coming from near the subdivision, he started home.

He was stopped by U.S. Forest Service officers at the intersection of Camp Creek and Willow Creek roads, but after explaining his family was still at home, they let him through.

Luckily, his family and home were safe, although the fire spread as close as 150 yards from his house.

"Thereís a lot to be said for having green space around your home," he said.

At one point a single-engine air tanker, or SEAT, dropped retardant so close to his home that some of it rained on it.

Steve Loucks was the BLM division supervisor for the Willow Creek fire. Express photo by David N. Seelig.

BLM press releases reported that residents of the subdivision were evacuated Monday night, but Walton said residents were not forced to leave.

"We were invited to leave. I had no time to look at the clock, but I think it was about midnight."

He said he stayed, but his wife, mother and brother left to stay at a friendís home. They came back Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, David Howell, a BLM fire information officer, said the only structure that was burned was "an old out building" and the Willow Creek Road bridge.

He added that Croy Creek Road, which connects Hailey with the subdivision, was closed from Kelly Gulch Road to the Blaine-Camas county line.

Late Tuesday morning, Hailey Assistant Fire Chief Carl Hjelm said the fire had not gotten into Croy Canyon, but the Hailey Fire Department was prepared to respond.

Howell reported the fire was about 12 miles west of Hailey on Tuesday afternoon, and was burning mostly in a northerly direction.

About 120 BLM and USFS firefighters were on the scene Tuesday morning with another 60 on their way, Howell said.

These numbers didnít include crews from Wood River Fire and Rescue, and the Hailey, Ketchum, Sun Valley, Gooding and Fairfield fire departments, who were providing structure protection to homes near the fire.

A BLM press release reported that in addition to the ground crews, an aggressive aerial attack was being conducted by three helicopters, six air tankers and three SEATs.


A large wildfire continues to rage through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. On Monday, the Snowshoe Fire had burned 21,500 acres near Elkhorn and Thirty-eight creeks after making a large run on Saturday.

Helicopters are making bucket drops in the hotter areas, as fire behavior and winds permit.

This summerís continued drying trend and strong afternoon winds continue to be among the foremost concerns on the fire, according to a Salmon-Challis National Forest press release.

The Snowshoe Fire has been burning in the wilderness area since July 25. After the fire grew beyond a "reasonable size" for direct suppression tactics, the strategy of fighting the fire was changed. Rugged terrain, lack of safety zones, protection of wilderness values and providing for firefighter safety are considerations in fighting the fire.

Officials expect the fire to burn until a season-ending weather event puts it out.

This weekís fires coincided with a declaration by the Salmon-Challis National Forest that Stage I fire restrictions will be implemented in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. The restrictions began on Aug. 31.

Stage I restrictions prohibit the use of campfires or stoves, except in developed Forest Service campgrounds.

The restrictions also limit smoking to developed recreation sites, inside vehicles or buildings or in a 3-foot clear zone.

Stage I restrictions were also implemented last week on the Sawtooth, Boise and Payette national forests.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.