Wednesday, August 27, 2008

South Barker Fire continues to grow

Remote blaze has grown to nearly 20,000 acres

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service A firefighter tours a forested portion of the South Barker Fire that saw light burning.

The South Barker Fire in the Smoky Mountains northwest of Fairfield continues to show significant growth due to increasing winds, fire officials reported Tuesday. The latest official count puts the fire at 19,425 acres.

According to Sawtooth National Forest officials, the blaze is moving through timber stands, consuming bug-killed trees along the way. The fire is burning most actively in the Willow Creek drainage, a large northeast-trending valley that enters the South Fork of the Boise River east of the backcountry community of Featherville.

The fire is being managed as a "wildland fire use" event, meaning that it will be allowed to burn to help achieve management objectives until it threatens public safety or valuable structures.

Aerial observations Monday afternoon indicated the fire in most places is backing down through timber and burning the extra fuel load beneath the forest canopy. The only exception are the tracts of bug-killed timber stands where the fire is burning actively in the afternoon and producing the large smoke plume that is visible for miles, a Sawtooth news release states.

On its northern flank, the fire is beginning to reach the perimeter of the Boise National Forest's Trail Creek Fire, which burned outside of the small town of Atlanta in 2000. As the South Barker Fire perimeter reaches the old burn area, fire managers expect fire behavior to decrease significantly.

In addition to clouding the Wood River Valley, smoke from the fire is moving into the Atlanta area and in the Sawtooth Valley from Hell Roaring Creek to Frenchman's Creek, with the highest density of smoke collecting around Alturas Lake.

One of two air-quality monitors was removed because of technical difficulties. The remaining monitor is in place at Pine, a small community south of Featherville on the South Fork of the Boise. Smoke data from the monitor can be viewed online throughout the day by logging on to and clicking on "Pine."

Ten-person specialized crews have been collecting information on area structures that may be threatened by the fire as well as the fire's behavior and activity, officials report. Additional fire crews are continuing to work to secure existing hand line construction and conducting "mop-up" operations on the blaze's west boundary.

A Boise National Forest closure order is pending for U.S. Forest Service Roads 135 and 138.

For the near future, wind speeds are forecast to be 10 to 15 miles per hour, while daytime temperatures are expected to be in the high 60s and low 70s.

Due to the proximity of the fire and for the safety of firefighters and the public, numerous campgrounds, roads and trails have been closed. Contact the Fairfield Ranger District for details: (208) 764-3222.

The closures will remain in effect until further notice. Closed campgrounds include Abbot, Chaparral, Bird Creek, Willow Creek, Baumgartner and Kelley Flats. The Willow Creek Transfer Station is also closed.

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