Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fires still raging in Central Idaho

Middle Fork Complex is now highest priority

Express Staff Writer

On Sunday, Canadian hot-shots and a California tree cutter load up at the "helio-base" at Dry Creek between two incident command posts, northwest of Stanley. Express photos by Willy Cook

Fires continue to burn in much of Idaho's wildlands, making it the most fire-devastated state in the country at the moment, with 16 active blazes.

In the Sawtooth National Forest, the Trailhead Fire was declared controlled July 31 after burning 1,040 acres, but re-ignited Tuesday, Aug. 22. Approximately 10 miles southwest of Stanley and four miles from Stanley Lake, the fire rapidly charged through thousands of acres of tinder-dry, beetle-killed pine trees.

It is now estimated to be 4,252 acres in size and continues to be active. Homes in the Iron Creek subdivision near Stanley were threatened but have been protected so far.

The Custer County Sheriff's Office evacuated campgrounds around Stanley Lake last Thursday, said Ed Waldapfel, spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest.

Federal, state, and county interagency resources continue to battle fires in a large area known as the Middle Fork Complex. This includes the Red Mountain, Boundary and Trailhead fires. Spike camps, placed closer to the fires from the Incident Command centers, were set up and new five-person crews are being airlifted with supplies, every five days.

"In my mind, the biggest problem with this fire is the inaccessibility, the remoteness of the fire and its surrounding terrain," said Lynn Barclay, Northern Rockies Management Team information officer.

Phone lines were laid to the spike camps and a satellite dish installed. "Anytime you are carrying on a complex situation, communication is huge," said Logistics Section Chief Rex Alford.

The Red Mountain Fire was 14,880 acres and 10 percent contained Tuesday. This fire is 12 air miles northeast of Lowman in timber. Campgrounds, a Forest Service guard station and fisheries habitat remain threatened. Bull Trout campground remains closed.

A Red Flag Warning was in effect Tuesday for strong, gusty winds and dry conditions. Burnout operations were extended into Bruce Meadows in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading northeast.

Drivers on Highway 21 are advised to be cautious due to heavy smoke. The Forest Service is listing this fire as high priority with a high growth potential and extremely difficult terrain. A new area closure is in place with several closed trails in the fire's vicinity.

The 10,655-acre Boundary Fire was 25 percent contained on Tuesday. The fire is located 14 miles southeast of Landmark. Firefighters and air resources are attempting to protect structural and architectural features including Big Soldier Lookout. The Boundary Creek Boat Launch and campground and the Dagger Creek campground remain closed.

The lightning-caused Trail Creek Fire, 21 miles north of Stanley, has now burned 29,450 acres. It is still active and could impact the Diamond D Ranch and the Loon Creek Guard Station, three miles away on its south side. Crews are removing trees and road grading as protection.

The Potato Fire, burning nine miles northeast of Stanley, was 95 percent contained at 18,454 acres Tuesday. That fire and the Zane Fire are now being monitored since the rate of growth is said to be low and containment is likely, according to the Forest Service. Despite the guarded projection, some closures around this fire are still in effect.

The earlier Fire Emergency Closure Order for the forest near the Potato Fire has been rescinded. New closures begin at the junction of the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area near Basin Creek Road. It proceeds northerly up Basin Creek across the ridge to Hindman Lake, then north to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness boundary. Closure remains on the southwest side of Forest Road 13 to Sunbeam. The closure continues the north side of Sunbeam and follows the main stem of the Salmon River boundary west to the beginning of the Basin Creek Road.

Stage I Fire Restrictions are in place for all National Forest lands on the Boise, Payette and Salmon-Challis National Forests. This includes lands within the Frank Church River-of-No-Return Wilderness, the Ketchum and Fairfield Ranger districts of the Sawtooth National Forest, including the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Prohibited until further notice are having any fires outside a Forest Service fire structure, and smoking outside an enclosed vehicle or building.

For more information, check with the Forest Service at (208) 373-4227 or with the Ketchum Ranger Station at 622-5371.

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