Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Banner, Long Butte fires under control

Crews mopping up troublesome blazes


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The Banner Fire burns through stands of dead trees and other dry fuel northwest of Stanley. The fire is currently under local management and being kept away from U.S. Highway 21 and Marsh Creek Road, though it is being allowed to burn naturally in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Photo by David N. Seelig

If the number of fire crews being demobilized is any indication, Idaho's fire season is slowing down.

BLM crews on at least four fires, including the Banner, Long Butte, Jesse and Bear Basin fires have been demobilized, and several fires sparked in south-central Idaho last week are already being mopped up by local crews.

Crews on the 2,365-acre Banner Fire west of Stanley have been demobilized as of yesterday morning, according to the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

The fire was sparked by lightning on Aug. 20, and though BLM crews came from Utah and Montana to battle the blaze, Salmon-Challis National Forest spokesman Kent Fullenbach said control of the fire is now in the lands of local crews.

"There's been a lot of rain and cool weather in the area, so things have really slowed down," Fullenbach said.

The service will continue to monitor the fire for hotspots and flare-ups, but Fullenbach said the fire will be allowed to continue burning through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, mainly so stands of dead trees and dry fuel can be burned off.

Marsh Creek Road and state Highway 21 are fully open, though hotspots in the area have caused the road into the Marsh Creek Trailhead and the Lola Campground to remain closed.

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The 20-acre Jesse Fire seven miles northwest of Salmon was mopped up on Monday, and the final seven firefighters were demobilized.

A falling snag injured one man on the Jesse Fire crew on Aug. 27, but he was released from Steele Memorial Medical Center in Salmon on Monday.

The Long Butte Fire near Hagerman was contained Monday morning, halting its expansion at 306,113 acres. BLM crews turned over control of the fire to local crews, which are now monitoring any remaining activity.

Long Butte burned three-quarters of the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and threatened the home range of the Saylor Creek wild horse herd.

None of the horses was injured or killed, but the BLM conducted an emergency gathering of the 200-horse herd on Tuesday. The BLM reported that the horses are being moved both to protect the remaining forage and to ensure their survival.

The bureau has already provided the horses with supplemental feed, but now they will be cared for in its Boise corrals. BLM spokeswoman Barbara Bassler said the horses will likely winter in Boise, and may be returned in the spring, depending on the state of the land's recovery.

Though fire activity has been relatively minimal so far this week, Bassler said campers and recreationists should be aware that Idaho's fire season is not over yet.

"It's still dry out there, and we can still have fires," she said.

Labor Day campers are urged to make sure campfires are extinguished and trailer hitches are operating properly. Sparks from improperly operating vehicles or malfunctioning trailer hitches can ignite dry grass on the roadside or on campsites, and small fires can spread quickly in the dry weather that the National Weather Service calls for this weekend.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Wildfire health concerns

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Department of Environmental Quality encourage Idaho residents to avoid unnecessary exposure to wildfire smoke.

The effects of smoke range from eye and respiratory-tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, aggravation of asthma and premature death, according to Dr. Kai Elgethun, toxicologist for the Health and Welfare Department.

Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Remaining hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract, making it easier to cough smoke particles out. Plan on coughing. It's nature's way of clearing your lungs. Avoid caffeine products, sugary drinks and alcohol as they have a dehydrating effect. If you wear contact lenses, switch to eyeglasses in a smoky environment.

To find daily updates on air quality information in your area, go to DEQ's website at www.deq.idaho.gov/air/data_reports.cfm.

Older adults, people with respiratory or heart disease, and parents of infants should be especially careful to limit outdoor activity until air quality improves. Older adults, infants, children and people with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart disease are more affected. People are advised to seek medical treatment for uncontrolled coughing, wheezing or choking, or if breathing difficulty continues once they are indoors.




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