Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Lightning, wind spark wildfires

Potato Fire still burning near Stanley


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

A firefighting helicopter replenishes its water supply last week during efforts to control the Potato Fire, near Stanley. The fire was 25 percent contained at 5,233 acres Tuesday morning. Photo by David N. Seelig

Lightning and wind sparked numerous wildfires on public land in south-central Idaho Sunday and Monday. What's more, initial reports that a large, possibly fire-related power outage stretching from the Wood River Valley to Twin Falls are apparently not true.

A blaze erupted Tuesday afternoon on Broadford Road east of the Minnie Moore Mine near Bellevue. At least one structure, which appeared to be a barn, had been burned. The cause and exact size of the fire had not been determined, according to Wood River Fire and Rescue.

A storm Monday evening knocked out power for a significant portion of Southern Idaho and sparked a fire south of Shoshone. According to Sky Buffat, public information officer for the Bureau of Land Management's field office in Shoshone, initial speculation that the nearly two-hour power outage was related to a fire was not true.

Idaho Power officials could not be reached for comment, but power was restored to the southern Wood River Valley Monday night.

The 400-acre blaze, known as the Pipeline Fire, was expected to be controlled Tuesday night.

The Owinda Fire, which was 70 percent contained at 25,000 acres Tuesday afternoon, was sparked Sunday night east of Shoshone. The blaze quickly ran north through wild grass and sage toward Richfield, where crews initiated a controlled burn to prevent the flames from advancing closer to town.

"It does appear that has been successful," Buffat said, referring to the controlled burn.

"There's a red flag warning in effect today," Buffat added, referring to National Weather Service warnings of low humidity and high wind—major wildfire ingredients. "Crews are out there watching it to see what happens."

The fire made little progress Tuesday, but Buffat said a control date has yet to be set.

Lightning strikes sparked several other small fires, most of them less than a quarter-acre in size, on BLM and Forest Service land.

"We're dealing with a lot of fires," Buffat said. But aside from the Owinda blaze, "none of them are large," she added.

Ed Waldapfel, spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest, said several fires less than a quarter-acre in size have kept crews on their toes. But given the severity of recent storms combined with wind and dry vegetation, "we have been extremely fortunate," he said.

The Potato Fire, burning in grass, sub-alpine fir and lodgepole pine in the Salmon-Challis National Forest seven miles north of Stanley, was 25 percent contained at 5,233 acres Tuesday morning, according to updates.

The fire was sparked by lighting July 28 and is continuing to threaten 10 residences, 61 structures, power lines, campgrounds and natural and historic resources near Yankee Fork. One small, historic cabin has been consumed by flames.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team, which is the most serious, is managing the blaze.

Twenty-three crews, seven helicopters, 14 engines, seven water tenders, two bulldozers and a total of 767 personnel are working the fire. An estimated 19 miles of additional line are needed to contain the fire. The Yankee Fork Road remains closed.

To date, the fire has cost $5.18 million.




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