A brief but intense thunderstorm in the Ketchum area Wednesday afternoon pushed emergency responders and firefighters into a flurry of action, with some working to assess whether fire might again threaten Bald Mountain.
Lightning from the storm started a small wildfire in the Cold Springs area near St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. Smoke from the blaze was first reported at about 6 p.m. Bill Murphy, fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said crews working a fire engine and helicopter, aided by the Ketchum Fire Department, contained the blaze by nightfall, after a couple of hours of work. In the end, it burned only one acre of land.
Firefighters were temporarily sent to the River Run base of Bald Mountain, after it was reported that a second fire might be burning on the face of the ski mountain. Fortunately, no flames were found on Baldy, which was threatened by the massive Castle Rock Fire in 2007.
At least one lightning bolt touched down in central Ketchum.
Need proof? Just ask John Cacey.
The 26-year-old Ketchum resident was riding his mountain bike down Eighth Street on his way to the river when the rain suddenly started pouring down at a roar. He stopped at the edge of adjacent Atkinson Park, the only large open field in town.
Cacey set his bicycle down at the edge of the field and took off his backpack and fishing pole to fetch his rain jacket. After putting the jacket on, Cacey slipped his backpack on and grabbed the bike's handlebars.
Then came the sound like a belt being cracked.
"It felt like someone hit me in the hip," he said, adding that he immediately dropped to the ground, either involuntarily or out of reaction.
Remembering what he'd learned in childhood, Cacey stayed on the ground and lay as flat as he could, not wanting to be struck again. He yelled, "I got hit by lightning. Help me," to the cars driving by.
"I was more shocked than anything," Cacey said. "Pardon the pun."
Then, Cacey saw some men at the Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department building across the field waving at him to run over. One of these men was maintenance worker Greg Merchep who, minutes before, was standing on a softball field on the opposite side of the building.
Merchep said he was using a painting machine to paint the lines on the field when he felt his baseball cap rise due to the static electricity flowing through his hair.
"I thought, 'Get away,'" he said, adding that the painting machine uses compressed oxygen and would be a bomb if struck by lightning. A mere minute after running inside, Merchep heard the strike and felt it shake the building. Looking outside, he saw a man laying at the field's edge by Eighth Street next to a bicycle.
It didn't take much convincing from Merchep or the others to get Cacey up and running to the building. He made it over and was ushered upstairs as 911 was called. Emergency medical technicians spent 15 minutes with Cacey before deciding he didn't suffer any injuries and let him leave the building.
By then, the sudden storm was gone and sunny skies had returned.
Children who were playing outside before the storm were all waiting anxiously in a room of the parks building. A row of windows faced the front entrance, and every child pressed their faces to the glass as the man who survived a lightning strike walked by outside.
Cacey then hopped on his bike and left. But he no longer had the river in mind as his destination. Instead, he headed back into town to Johnny G's Subshack for a beer.
"No one ever thinks that will happen to them," he said.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lightning sparks wildfires
In addition to the Cold Springs fire, Forest Service Fire Management Officer Bill Murphy said a separate storm at Galena Summit also started a fire on Titus Ridge. Four firefighters in a helicopter and engine controlled the one-tenth-acre blaze. The largest fire from Wednesday's storms came west of the Wood River Valley near Willow Creek Ranch, according to Fairfield District Fire Management Officer Lucus Santio. He said two heavy airtankers, helicopters, eight smokejumpers, a 20-person hotshot crew and more were sent in and had the 20-acre brush fire contained by midnight.