Friday, July 20, 2007

Wildfires continue to burn across Idaho

Heavy smoke settles into valley; Stage 1 restrictions go into effect

Express Staff Writer

You weren't alone if you looked to the sky above Bald Mountain early Wednesday evening and wondered where the ominous smoky haze was coming from. As early as 3:30 p.m., slender tendrils of light gray smoke could be seen backed up against the late-afternoon sky.

And as the afternoon progressed into evening, the smoke thickened, painting the evening sky in brilliant shades of pink, orange and purple.

The smoke was not the result of a previously unreported wildfire burning locally said Sawtooth National Forest Fire Management Officer Bill Murphy. A more likely source was one of the numerous wildfires that have flared in the past few days on the Boise National Forest after a lightning storm passed over the area.

Dense smoke usually suggests a more local source, while the light smoky hazes that often settle in the Wood River Valley during the summer can come from many miles away, sometimes even out of state, he said.

"Smoke can be transported for hundreds of miles," Murphy said. "Wherever the air of the world moves the smoke moves with it."

On Thursday, the Web site of the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center reported five new wildfires burning in various locations across Southern and Central Idaho.

Among the fires was the Twin Buttes Fire on Idaho National Laboratory land four miles northeast of Atomic City. On Thursday, the NIFC site reported the fire at 1,050 acres and zero percent containment. Active fire behavior apparently caused the closure of U.S. Highway 20 on Wednesday.

Other new wildfires reported Thursday included the 250-acre Trapper Ridge Fire on the Boise National Forest and the 318-acre Concord Fire on the Nez Perce National Forest 20 miles southwest of Elk City.

Elsewhere on the Boise National Forest, the 650-acre Garden Valley Complex Fire was reportedly at 10 percent containment Thursday. The blaze is four miles northeast of Cascade and could have been the source of the smoke seen above Bald Mountain, Murphy suggested.

South of the Wood River Valley a number of small to moderate sized range fires are burning on land managed by the Twin Falls District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The closest of is the lightning-caused King Hill Fire between Glenns Ferry and Bliss near the Snake River. Crews from Hammett are working on the estimated 100-acre wildfire, a BLM press release states.

In related fire news, the Salmon-Challis National Forest announced Wednesday it would impose Stage 1 fire restrictions beginning Thursday, July 19. The restrictions also cover eastern Idaho's Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Beginning today, Friday, July 20, Stage 1 fire restrictions will also go into effect in three Central Idaho wilderness areas: the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the 205,796-acre Gospel Hump Wilderness and the 1.3-million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Under Stage 1 fire restrictions, the use of campfires, barbecues and wood-burning stoves or "sheepherder stoves" is prohibited except in developed campsites or other recreation sites as listed on national forest maps. Fires solely fueled by liquid petroleum fuels are exempt from these restrictions. The restrictions also limit smoking to developed recreation sites, inside vehicles or buildings, or in an area of three feet in diameter, cleared of burnable materials.

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