Friday, August 8, 2008

Fires take hold in wilderness area

Firefighters attack 2 of 3 blazes in Frank Church


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

After a relatively quiet July, the fire season in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is heating up.

Three fires are burning in the vast wilderness area north of Stanley. The Cayuse Fire and the Roan Fire, both located approximately 10 miles northeast of the launch site for the Main Salmon River, are relatively small but are of concern to forest officials because they have potential to merge and grow significantly. The third blaze, near the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, has closed a popular hiking trail but has not yet forced any limitations on boat travel on the river.

The Cayuse Fire was reported Monday afternoon, burning in Cayuse Creek, a tributary of Horse Creek, about 18 air miles northwest of Shoup. Three helicopters dropped water on the fire Wednesday and seven rappelers were moved into the area. The rappelers were later moved out because of unsafe conditions. As of Thursday morning, the fire had burned about 20 acres.

The Roan Fire, reported Wednesday, has burned about 20 acres three miles south of the Cayuse Fire. Two helicopters dropped water on the fire Wednesday.

Kent Fuellenbach, public information officer for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said land managers are concerned about the two fires because they are in "steep, nasty country" that makes them hard to fight. He said there is concern that they could merge into one fire that could then merge with the 1,000-acre Woodhump Fire in the Bitterroot National Forest, just a couple miles to the west.

Fuellenbach said a Type 3 fire-fighting team—including helicopters, hot-shot firefighters and hand crews—would continue fighting the two fires today.

The 200-acre Waterfall Fire continues to burn in the upper Waterfall Creek area about two miles east of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. That fire is currently a low-intensity fire burning mostly in grass under a ponderosa pine stand. Forest officials are managing the fire as a "wildland" fire, meaning it is being allowed to burn but will be monitored. Crews could be sent in to protect bridges in the area, Fuellenbach said.

Waterfall Creek Trail No. 045 has been closed from the junction with Middle Fork Trail No. 044 near the Big Creek Bridge up to the downstream end of Lower Terrace Lake.

Fuellenbach said rangers are located at points along the Middle Fork to alert boaters of the situation. He said the fire does not currently pose a hazard for float-boat use of the Middle Fork but there may be some smoke in the area.

Fuellenbach said the fire season in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has been relatively calm this year, with only 14 fires—most of them small—in the region so far. However, the fire danger is likely to become more serious as the season goes on, he said.




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