Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fires start in Sawtooths, near Middle Fork Salmon

Both blazes were lightning-caused

Express Staff Writer

     Lightning ignited two fires last week in nearby wilderness areas—one in the Sawtooth Mountains and one in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness not far from the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
    The Papoose Fire has burned about 4,400 acres in a tributary drainage on the west side of the Middle Fork of the Salmon, between the mouth of Big Creek and the confluence with the Main Salmon. It was detected on July 8.
    Forest Service Public Information Officer Mike McMillan said the fire has reached the river in a few spots. However, he said, “It’s not just racing up the ridges—it’s in pretty sparse fuel.”
    Fire managers completed a helicopter reconnaissance of the fire area on Sunday afternoon and a water-dropping helicopter was used to douse hot spots on Monday. Forty-five people were reported working on the fire Tuesday.
    However, McMillan said firefighters were unable to control the fire on the initial attack, and because of the difficult terrain will probably be unable to contain it quickly.
    “We’re probably going to be living with this fire all summer,” he said. “We’re focused on keeping the impacts to the river minimal.”
    Eight firefighters from Montana’s Lewis and Clark Fire Module began a three-day mission by boat on Monday to assess river campsites and heritage sites. They planned to remove ground litter to reduce the fire’s impact should it reach those sites. Fire personnel are also assessing the Big Creek Bridge and surrounding area.
    Boaters on the Middle Fork of the Salmon are required to check in with forest personnel at the Flying B Ranch to determine if there are changes in campsite reservations based on fire activity or fire operations.
    The second fire, called the Leggit Fire, is burning in the southern end of the Sawtooth Wilderness several miles east of Atlanta.
    According to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service, the fire was ignited on July 2 and has burned 160 acres. Leggit Creek is a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Boise River.
    Water drops from helicopters are working to keep the fire from spreading into adjacent areas, but because of the steep slopes, loose, rocky soil and challenging access in the area, managers have strong concerns for firefighter safety. Forest managers are planning the appropriate response to this incident.
    “The helicopter drops are being effective in keeping the fire high up in the drainage and keeping it separated from heavier fuels lower down,” said Matt Filbert, assistant fire management officer for the North Zone of the Sawtooth National Forest.
     An area closure is in effect for the Leggit Creek drainage including the Leggit Creek Trail, which is accessed from a trailhead north of Atlanta.
    For updated information, call the Stanley Ranger Station at 208-774-3000 or the Sawtooth National Forest headquarters office at 727-5000.

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