Castle Rock Fire Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley and Operations Chief Joe Reyes were greeted before a question and answer session Thursday evening with a standing ovation from Wood River Valley residents in attendance at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum.
The following is a summary.
Q: Please comment on the relative size and difficulty of the Castle Rock Fire?
A: Ten years ago, 46,000 acres was a big fire. But with the amount of drying and the amount of fuels in the forest now, this isn't a small fire, but it's not a huge fire either. The wind is something else. Winds basically took this thing completely full circle.
Q: When do Board Ranch homeowners get to go home?
A: Sometime this weekend—hopefully. It's 12.8 miles through the center of this thing, so there's a lot of mop-up to be done.
Q: Does it have to be 100 percent contained for Board Ranch residents to be let back in?
A: No. It has to be secure.
Q: Regarding the back burn on Guyer Ridge, how far up Warm Springs was the ridge burned?
A: Enough to bring all 12.8 miles under control.
Q: As for the Cold Springs area, what if west winds kick-up?
A: We will be mopping in 300 to 400 feet in that area to avoid west winds kicking up any flames.
Q: What does it mean to pre-treat a house?
A: A number of things. To go in and move combustible material away from the house, possibly to wrap the house (in an aluminum foil-type wrap), the real factor of whether or not we can save a home is the amount of foliage surrounding the structure.
Q: How's the NASA drone doing, and has it been helpful?
A: The drone flew last night, and the images provided were similar to the ones we received from our other tools. It was looking pretty accurate.
Q: How are the fire fighters and Team 3 doing now?
A: The fire fighters have been on the road a lot this year already, and the important thing is so far there have been no injuries, well, no serious ones. Looking to get a little time off. As for Team 3, this is the third time out for the team, and they are doing really well. The communication was really good on this fire, but everyone is looking forward to sleeping in their own bed.
Q: How long will it take to mop up the north-facing ridges?
A: They take longer. There's a lot of fuel on those slopes, not just trees but roots and ground fuel as well. It's slow going, and we're trying to be very thorough. We'll mop up at least 200 feet in, more in some places.
Q: How long will it take to put the embers out in the hot spots?
A: If things heat up on the ground a wind event will push it up. Around houses we really try and work that area. We ask people when they return to their homes to walk their yards, make sure everything looks alright.
Q: What does the weekend wind forecast look like?
A: We have thunder today and tomorrow. The next cold front is moving in Tuesday or Wednesday. We actually have a little more time to get things mopped up than we expected.
Q: When will some of the fire fighters begin to be sent home?
A: We won't extend those already at 14 days. Starting a couple of days ago we began to send some home. The numbers are already starting to be drawn down.
Q: What can Ketchum do in the future to keep this from happening again?
A: The Fire Wise program. If that is taken to heart 90 percent of what you need to do will be done. That and listen to your elected officials, your mayor and county officials. They will be really good at this when this thing is done.
Q: Of the 1,672 firefighters, what is the number of females firefighters?
A: Maybe 15 percent.
Q: When will the heavy smoke in the valley subside?
A: Once the burnout operations are done. Today was awful, but the vast majority (of back burns) are done.
Q: What if lightning starts another fire here?
A: It will stay small because we will nail it.
Q: Will it take the first major snowfall to put this completely out?
A: A three-quarters-of-an-inch rain will put 99 percent of it out. We'd like to see 1 foot of snow, but we'll take the rain.
Q: What will the burns around Lower Board Ranch look like?
A: It will be a mosaic. The areas of beetle kill will look completely black, but you'll see patches of green and some colors in between.
Q: What does advisory status mean. Can we unpack and put pictures back on the wall?
A: It means we think we can handle it through the next windy bout. Don't bring horses back yet.
Q: In the Board Ranch area, was the burn out from top to bottom or bottom to top?
A: After putting out spot fires that sprang up, we started at the top and worked down. At the end we went from the bottom because the heat from the fire on the ridge pulls the lower fire up—where it then burns itself out.
Q: How long will mop-up operations take?
A: We'll mop up 300-plus-feet all the way around. The Forest Service will have to watch this closely for a while. Don't be surprised if come spring, you see smoke pop up from a hot spot that was buried.
Q: What is the difference between Type 1, 2 and 3 Teams?
A: Type 1 is an international team with more logistical and financial capabilities. Type 2 is able to handle moderately difficult fires and to perform mop-up operations. Type 3 are made up of local forests or districts.
Q: Will there be increased avalanche danger from this?
A: I am from Alabama, Pincha-Tulley said, so I don't know. The bigger concern is erosion.
Q: What do you do with bulldozer lines?
A: Normally, we rehab and put it back to as close to natural status as possible. But that's Kurt's (Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson's) job.
Q: On a scale of one to 10, what was your panic level?
A: Mine was close to a nine, Pincha-Tullley said. Because of all the troops up there. There's somebody's son or daughter out there, and that's what I was worried about.
Q: Will school still start on Tuesday, Sept. 4?
Q: What's being done to assess the damage to watersheds?
A: A team of five people will spend the next three days studying the damage and will determine any threats to life or property within seven days.
Q: How soon will rehabilitation efforts start?
A: A U.S. Forest Service rehabilitation team is turning in a report tomorrow that will outline direction for rehab of vegetation, trails, bridges and other resources lost in the structure.
Q: Are volunteers needed for re-seeding burned areas?
A: Yes, but that will come later.
Q: Is there a risk of flash flooding in burned areas?
A: Cooked watersheds always pose some risk.
Q: Did the Forest Service conduct the fuel reduction in Warm Springs it had planned previously?
A: Yes. It was implemented in Board Ranch in the form of a timber sale. A second sale was scheduled to start near Warm Springs golf course last Monday.
Q: How many total residences were issued a mandatory evacuation order during the fire?
A: Approximately 3,200.
Q: What do the emergency crews think of Ketchum?
A: State Sen. Clint Stennett said a man from Boise arrived with the stereotypical idea of Blaine County. That man now says the county is the kindest, most gentle-spirited and community-minded place he's ever seen.
Q: Will there be any help for businesses that have suffered?
A: Officials have asked Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to declare Blaine County a disaster area. That will open the door for low interest loans for businesses that can help bridge the gap until ski season.
Q: When will the next community meeting be held?
A: Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman hopes there will be no need for more meetings.