local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 last week
 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info

 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs

 email us:
 arts and events


Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8065 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


Mountain Jobs

Formula Sports


Idaho Conservation League



Gary Carr...The Carr Man!

Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

For the week of August 1 - 7, 2001


Cause of Sage Fire still under investigation

Hillside conflagration is ‘effectively’ extinguished

Express Staff Writer

The 300-acre Sage Fire on the north side of Warm Springs canyon still has a couple of mysteries attached to it.

One is exactly how the fire started and the other is whether it is really out.

The City of Ketchum and Ketchum Rural fire departments had engines and tankers on the scene and firefighters battling the blaze on the hillside virtually from the start of the Sage Fire in Warm Spring canyon. Express photos by Willy Cook

The fire started about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the intersection of Sage Road and Skiway Drive, north of Warm Springs Road.

Its source was a riding lawn mower. From the point where the mower was abandoned, the fire widened as it moved uphill. By the time it crossed the ridge, igniting some Douglas fir trees, it had scorched the width of the hill.

Even though it is known that the mower was operated by an employee of The Wirth Co., questions remain about what the mower was doing in the sagebrush and if the mower was initially on fire.

Ketchum Fire Chief Tom Johnson said members of The Wirth Co., including the operator of the mower, were interviewed Thursday afternoon as part of an investigation of the fire’s cause.

A U.S. Forest Service press release Thursday said the mower was pushed into the sagebrush after it had caught fire. But photos of the burned-out mower show the operator may have been dumping clippings in the sage.

Ed Cannady, Forest Service fire information officer for the Sage Fire, said Monday he would not release any details, including the name of the mower’s operator, since the fire is still under investigation.

He said the investigation will determine whether the Forest Service will seek reimbursement for suppression costs, an amount not yet tallied.

Cannady said that even though the fire was under control, it was not certain if it was extinguished.

"Controlled" means flames are either out or easily mopped up, and no new fuel outside the fire zone is burning.

"Extinguished" means there are no embers that could re-ignite the fire.

Cannady said the Sage Fire was "effectively" extinguished, "but we can’t say it’s completely extinguished until after watching it for several days since a fire can smolder a long time."

A major factor in containment of the fire was an intense bombardment from the air by a daring flock of helicopter and tanker pilots.

Express photo by Willy CookFour heavy air tankers dropped 11 loads of retardant, totaling 30,250 gallons, according to the press release. Two single-engine tankers, similar in appearance to crop dusters, dropped 21 loads, comprised of 16,800 gallons of retardant and 22,400 gallons of foam.

Four helicopter tankers – one heavy, one medium and two small – made innumerable drops of water they got from nearby Penny Lake.

By 10 a.m., the Ketchum and Ketchum Rural fire departments had engines and tankers on the scene, and 12 firefighters were already up the hillside, working along the edge of the fire zone to keep it contained.

Some of the firefighters worked with hand tools like Pulaskis, McClouds and shovels to keep the fire zone from spreading in width.

Others with hoses kept the fire from creeping back down the hillside or near the duplex.

Above the firefighters, where flames were leaping 10 feet and higher, helicopter tankers tried to keep the fire from working any further up the hillside.

After they dropped their loads of muddy water, they returned to Penny Lake to refill and fly another run.

But even with the aerial water bombardment, the fire made it to the ridge line and began to threaten the forested area on the Adam Gulch side.

At 11 a.m., the Adams Gulch trailhead parking lot was packed, but an exodus of hikers and mountain bikers could be seen in the distance making their way out.

While the hikers were coming out, single engine air tankers were unloading retardant along the ridge line. These planes carry about 500 gallons, said Cannady, and, can release their loads a bit at a time.

By about 11:30 a.m., a Blaine County Sheriff’s deputy evacuated the Adams Gulch trailhead and turned the curious back.

The big tankers arrived soon after, dropping their 2,000-plus gallon loads of retardant that spread out in huge red plumes in the air before falling on the fire zone.

The single engine tankers refilled in Hailey, Cannady said, while the big tankers went to Boise.

Ketchum Fire Chief Tom Johnson said the Ketchum, Ketchum Rural and Sun Valley fire departments remained in action until 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Hotshots from the USFS and BLM got into the fight around 11 a.m.

At the height of the fire, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, 160 firefighters from seven agencies were involved in the battle. Those included the Ketchum, Ketchum Rural and Sun Valley fire departments; the Ketchum Police Department; the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office; the Bureau of Land Management; and the Forest Service.

The fight lasted about 80 hours, from 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday to an estimate of the fire’s control, 6 p.m. on Saturday.

No one was injured, and there was no damage to structures.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.