Friday, August 10, 2012

Wildfires, heat prompt restrictions

Campfires limited on public lands

Express Staff Writer

A heavy air tanker from the Air National Guard fights the Flat Top 2 fire near Kimama on Wednesday night. The fire has grown to more than 135,000 acres, and is one of a number of large fires in the region. Courtesy of Twin Falls Bureau of Land Management

Campers may want to reconsider their plans for the remainder of the summer, as fire restrictions for the Sawtooth National Forest go into effect on Sunday.

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the restrictions limit campfires in many campgrounds, including developed ones that might be further off the beaten path.

"The majority of our more remote sites, even though they are developed campgrounds, will have no open fires just because our response time is so long," he said.

The closure will include campgrounds in the Corral Creek drainage east of Ketchum, as well as the Baker Creek, Deer Creek and Warm Springs drainages. However, Nelson said, there are still areas where campfires are permitted.

"The majority of the campgrounds along the Highway 75 road corridor, where we can respond quickly, will be open," Nelson said.

Campgrounds where fires are allowed will be clearly marked by the Forest Service. The problem with campfires in more remote sites, Nelson said, is that if a fire is sparked, it can take crews a long time to reach and extinguish them. By the time crews arrive, a small spark can catch dry fuels and expand rapidly.

"As dry as it is and with our continued above-normal temperatures, we're seeing some of these fires really develop some legs and get up and run," he said.

Nelson said that even in the closure areas, which include the Sawtooth National Recreation area, propane camp stoves may be used for cooking, as may any stove that does not use charcoal or wood.

"With charcoal, people have a tendency to throw the charcoal out and it may not be extinguished," he said. "Then we get a fire start."

The embers from wood stoves can also light dry grasses and other vegetation on fire. Smoking is also forbidden unless in an enclosed vehicle or building or on a developed recreation site or in a clear area more than three feet in diameter.

The last time that Stage 1 fire restrictions were launched was in 2007, Nelson said, a year notorious for the Castle Rock and Trail Creek fires.

"This spring wasn't as bad, but we set record temperatures for July," he said. "It's been warm and dry with very little precipitation. These fires, once they get started, they really get up and go."

The lighting-started Halstead Fire 18 miles northwest of Stanley was one such fire. Only 50 acres on Aug. 6, the fire exploded over the next few days, growing almost exponentially. As of Thursday afternoon, the fire had reached 36,814 acres with only 3 percent containment.

Mardi Rhodes, spokeswoman for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said in a press release that fire growth has slowed down, but all access to the Cape Horn area, the Seafoam Bubble and all areas of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness east of the Middle Fork remain closed.

The largest fire actively burning is the Flat Top 2 Fire 10 miles north of Kimama and south of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. At 135,000 acres, the fire continues to grow, according to a press release from the Bureau of Land Management, and is being battled by heavy air tankers as well as a helicopter.

The BLM reported that the fire is 40 percent contained, but there is no estimate for full containment as of yet.

Kate Wutz:

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