A helicopter drops water on the Colorado Gulch Fire near Hailey on Monday afternoon.
Express photo by Willy Cook
The residents of Hailey experienced over the last few days a scene reminiscent of last summer’s Beaver Creek Fire, when helicopters and “hotshot” crews fought to keep swirling flames from sweeping into the city.
Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said during a press conference Monday night that the Colorado Gulch Fire—which started Sunday evening in Croy Canyon west of Hailey—was nearly contained, due to “quick and decisive” responses by local and federal fire-fighting agencies.
Ramsey said that an 18-year-old suspect had confessed to starting the blaze while lighting fireworks.
Federal officials reported that by Tuesday afternoon the fire had burned 728 acres and was 20 percent contained, with full containment expected by 8 p.m. tonight, July 9. The fire was not growing on Tuesday, they reported.
All mandatory evacuation orders for Croy Canyon were lifted by 4:15 Monday afternoon, but only local traffic will be allowed into the area until the BLM declares the fire completely contained.
The Colorado Gulch Fire started at 7:35 p.m. in Croy Canyon, about three miles west of the city. Overnight, due to high winds and dry conditions, the fire exhibited “extreme fire behavior” similar to conditions seen in the Beaver Creek Fire of August of 2013, Ramsey said.
Crews from Wood River Fire and Rescue responded and requested the assistance of local fire agencies within Blaine County. The fire quickly spread into the Bureau of Land Management's jurisdiction, later jumping Colorado Gulch Road.
On Sunday night, 12 homes were threatened and five homes were placed under mandatory evacuation. By Monday morning, the blaze was working its way across hilltops toward town, and 28 homes had been evacuated, with a total of 40 homes threatened on the south side of the canyon.
“Fire season has come one month early. Let’s be safe and sane with fireworks.”
Wendy and John Henning live at 311 Croy Canyon Road, about a quarter mile west of where the fire began and just beyond the evacuation boundary. The Hennings saw the fire just after it began, while they were having dinner Sunday evening.
“It went straight up the mountain,” Wendy Henning said. “Luckily, there was very little wind at that time. If it had been the day before, we would have been in big trouble.”
The Hennings watched the firefighters as they fought to contain the blaze Sunday night and Monday morning.
“It was fascinating and frightening at the same time,” she said.
The fire grew to 716 acres by 11 a.m. Monday morning. Hotshot crews in pickup trucks and fire engines filed into and out of the canyon, which had been closed to all unnecessary traffic.
A helicopter flew sorties from the Croy Creek wetlands beaver ponds, carrying water in a bucket to douse the flames, while a DC-10 air tanker laid down a quarter-mile swath of flame retardant between the line of fire and nearby Della Mountain.
Black smoke could be seen pouring from Colorado Gulch Canyon to the south, while the blaze nearly crossed Croy Canyon Road to the north.
The fire was fought under the unified command of Wood River Fire & Rescue and the BLM. Crews from the Hailey Fire Department, Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department and Bellevue Fire Department assisted, in large part by providing structure protection. Together, the local agencies provided nine structure engines, four water tenders, eight wildland engines and one bulldozer.
Two 20-men hotshot crews, two single-seat, fixed-wing airplanes, one light helicopter, one heavy helicopter and one DC-10 VLAT (Very Large Air Tanker) were used to keep the fire from spreading.
Ramsey said that thanks to the combined effort, no injuries or damages to structures was reported. Some power poles were burned on Monday.
At its height, the fire led to evacuations of Croesus Creek Road and Rodeo Drive, and the closure of Lion’s Park and Colorado Gulch Road.
Ramsey said the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office has identified an 18 year-old Wood River Valley resident who they say confessed to being responsible for starting the blaze, which burned mostly in sagebrush and grass.
“He was lighting fireworks,” Ramsey said at the press conference Monday.
Ramsey said the fire was started on private land and quickly spread to BLM land. He said the suspect, who is part of an ongoing investigation, has not been charged with a crime.
Ramsey said it is legal to use fireworks on private property, but they would not have been legal on nearby federal land.
“Fire season has come one month early,” Ramsey said. “Let’s be safe and sane with fireworks.”
Ramsey issued a general advisory, should another fire break out.
“If you are in the vicinity of the fire, please maintain situational awareness and take precautions to protect your family and pets by preparing now for immediate departure should conditions worsen,” a news release states. “If you are in imminent danger, do not wait for evacuation orders.”