Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Valley Road Fire mostly contained

Full containment expected within a week

Express Staff Writer

Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and spits of rain and snow earlier this week significantly slowed the spread of the Valley Road Fire, which has been burning through beetle-killed lodgepole pine about 15 miles south of Stanley since Sept. 3.

The fire had burned 40,876 acres by Tuesday morning and was 65 percent contained.

"It's been kind of holding pretty steady for the last couple days," said Fire Information Officer Don Carpenter.

Eighteen crews camped along the fire's edge continued to work a line around its northern and western flanks on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Full containment is expected by Sept. 27.

About 100 firefighters were taken off the blaze between Monday and Tuesday. Total personnel working the fire was at 596 Tuesday, but Carpenter said that number would continue to drop as containment grows. Eight helicopters continue to provide support. The Sexton Type 1 Incident Management Team, which has been managing the blaze since Sept. 4, will leave on Friday, passing over responsibility to a Type 3 team.

While the forecast calls for higher temperatures and lower humidity the rest of the week, Carpenter said the fire, which has displayed radical behavior in the past, is not expected to flare up.

"We're not extremely worried, we're not looking for the fire to blow up or make any major runs," he said, adding that smoke would possibly increase, making the fire look worse than it is.

Residents of Fisher Creek, who were evacuated in the blaze's early days, have been allowed to return to their homes. All other evacuations and highway closures also have been lifted.

The fire has claimed three outbuildings associated with the historic Aztec Mine, but no homes or other structures have been lost and no major injuries have been reported.

A Burned Area Emergency Response Team was scheduled to arrive Tuesday to begin preparations to rehabilitate the fire-ravaged area. Carpenter said a fish biologist would be included on the team to mitigate the fire's impact on salmon and trout habitat. The team was scheduled to host a meeting at the Stanley Community Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday to answer questions and discuss its plan.

Idaho Highways 21 and 75 were open without delays on Tuesday, although about 15 percent of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area remained closed. Campfires are restricted throughout the SNRA except in designated campsites with developed fire pits. Smoking is also prohibited except within enclosed vehicles or buildings.

For a detailed report of road and trail closures in the SNRA, call the Stanley Ranger Station at (208) 774-3000.

The Valley Road Fire was sparked on private property on the afternoon of Sept. 3 and rapidly ran north and east through dangerously dry timber, consuming 9,000 acres in its first 24 hours.

Initial reports from firefighters that the blaze was started by a rancher's burn barrel have not been confirmed and the cause remains under investigation.

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