Friday, July 13, 2012

Lightning sparks brush fire in south

Rock Creek Fire burns 213 acres


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Flames from the 213-acre Rock Creek Fire lick a slope southwest of Hailey on Tuesday night. Local fire departments and the BLM responded to fight the fire, including with six smokejumpers from the BLM. Photo by David N. Seelig

Blaine County got its first real taste of wildfire season Tuesday night as a lighting-started blaze burned 213 acres of private and public land before being contained the next afternoon.

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said the Rock Creek Fire was started near Rock Creek Road and Glendale Road southwest of Hailey at 2:57 p.m. on Tuesday after a small thunderstorm cell passed through.

Lassman said the fire came within a mile and a half of homes in the Glendale Road and Poverty Flats area, but the structures were not necessarily considered threatened. There were also some cattle to the south of the blaze owned by Nick Purdy, but Lassman said they were not injured or in significant danger from the fire.

A total of 38 personnel from county departments responded along with eight engines, seven water tenders and three chief officers.

"Every department in the county sent resources upon request," Lassman said, apart from Smiley Creek, which was not requested to respond.

The fire was fueled by dry sagebrush and grass, and though Lassman said the department was still trying to determine the owner of the burned private property, half the burned acreage was BLM land.

Eight U.S. Forest Service firefighters also responded along with North Zone Fire Management Officer Bill Murphy.

Kyli Gough, fire information officer for the BLM's Twin Falls District, said in a press release that the agency sent four engines and hand crews, which Lassman said were actually six smoke jumpers who leapt into the fire area with hand tools.

The agency sent one aerial support vehicle, a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter that was able to drop 1,500 gallons of water on the fire at 7 p.m.

Lassman said the helicopter's late arrival, as well as the use of smokejumpers, was due to the other fires burning on the Twin Falls and Boise BLM districts.

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"They could not free up anything for an air attack unless there was an immediate threat to structures," he said. "What we had was what we were going to get."

The effort was also complicated by shifting winds with gusts up to 35 mph.

"We had some tense moments," Lassman said. "We had some wind shifts that made it impossible to flank the fire. It would change direction on us, and we'd have to pull folks off the line and we'd go back at it."

Crews and equipment responded from Wood River Fire & Rescue, fire departments from Ketchum, Hailey, Sun Valley, Bellevue and Carey, and the West Magic Fire District.

Lassman said two contract tankers from Valley Paving, which are usually used to water cattle, aided crews as well.

Gough said the fire was fully contained at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and Wood River Fire & Rescue crews were released at 5 p.m.

The Rock Creek Fire contributed to some of the smoke in the valley Wednesday, but fires across the Twin Falls District were also putting off significant amounts. According to a BLM press release, lightning strikes started three fires Tuesday.

As the 216,000-acre Kinyon Road Fire continued to smolder near Twin Falls, the Rabbit Springs Fire north of Jackpot burned 2,000 acres of BLM land and caused the partial closure of Highway 93.

The Little Birch Creek Fire southeast of Oakley burned 800 acres of piñon pine and juniper, while the Cox's Well Fire burned 8,064 acres west of Springfield. By Wednesday, two more fires had been sparked for a total of 58,923 acres of active burning.

Seven fires continued to burn farther north as well on the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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