Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Officials cautious about reopening burned areas

Crews will begin trails assessment in Castle Rock Fire area this week

Express Staff Writer

Trees burned during the Castle Rock Fire will be an ongoing hazard until U.S. Forest Service crews remove them. Popular Wood River Valley trail systems in Deer Creek, Greenhorn Gulch, Adams Gulch, Fox Creek and Chocolate Gulch are closed until further notice. Photo by Willy Cook

Sawtooth National Forest officials are taking a cautious wait-and-see approach about opening trails closed due to the Castle Rock Fire.

The 48,520-acre fire, which fire officials declared 100 percent contained Tuesday morning, burned over a large area popular with local and visiting backcountry hikers and bikers.

The list of popular areas closed due to the fire reads like a veritable who's who of classic Wood River Valley single-track destinations. They include the Deer Creek, Greenhorn Gulch, Adams Gulch, Fox Creek, Chocolate Gulch and Oregon Gulch trail systems. Also still closed to public use are Bald Mountain trails.

The areas remain within an approximately 150,000-acre public lands closure area on the Sawtooth National Forest. The closure area extends from Baker Creek on the north to encompass the entire Deer Creek drainage on the south. From state Highway 75, the closure extends west to the Blaine County line.

Ketchum District ranger Kurt Nelson said officials are transitioning from a Type 1 incident management team, which deals with large fires, to a Type 2 incident management team, which handles smaller fires and mop-up operations. He said the switchover could happen as early as 6 p.m. today.

He said that once the new Type 2 team arrives in Ketchum, forest officials will sit down with the team to discuss trail openings. He said those decisions will be made by fire-fighting managers.

"We assigned the responsibility to the Type 1 team," he said.

Nelson said crews will begin a safety assessment of area trails later this week. He said that not only will they consider issues such as potential hazard trees, but they also must consider ongoing post-fire work such as helicopters carrying firefighting gear out of the backcountry and fire crews rehabilitating a vast network of fire line.

Nelson said officials don't want to keep people from enjoying the backcountry, but do need to consider whether areas are safe for public use before opening them.

"We'll start with the priority trails and kind of work out," he said.

Nelson said crews will have to remove trees made unstable by the fire prior to the trails reopening.

"There are some areas that burned pretty hot," he said.

He said forest officials will set up an information center and hotline on trail openings later this week.

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