The burn area of the 78,000-acre Halstead Fire is shown in red, while the closure area around the fire is shown in blue. Recreationists are not allowed to raft, camp or otherwise inhabit the closed area until further notice. However, the city of Stanley was not included in the closed area as of Thursday. The smaller Bench Fire is burning south of Highway 21. Express map by Tony Barriatua
The Halstead Fire near Stanley exploded over the past few days, burning 20,000 more acres of land between Wednesday and Thursday morning, with no end in sight.
In addition to causing the evacuation of Sunbeam, a small village 13 miles east of Stanley, the fire has shut down some operations on the Upper Salmon River and caused diversions and cancellations at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.
Doug Fenn, owner of White Otter Adventures river-rafting company and also all of the buildings at Sunbeam, said he shut down his rafting trips Tuesday and is now just trying to keep his buildings safe.
"I can look behind me and see the plume going up 40,000 to 50,000 feet," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "The fire is marching toward us at a pretty good rate."
As of Thursday morning, the area along state Highway 75 from Sunbeam to Lower Stanley—not including Lower Stanley or Stanley proper—had been issued a 48-hour evacuation notice.
All of the campgrounds in the area north of Highway 75 and Highway 21 to Banner Summit and the Twin Peaks Saddle are closed. Though the Main Salmon River and the Middle Fork remain open, many access points are closed.
Jackie Nefzger, general manager of Mackay Wilderness River Trips, said on Wednesday that though the company is still running its rafting trips, the fires have caused some complications.
One trip was delayed by more than 24 hours due to closures, she said, and a trip on the Main Salmon had to start 17 miles upstream from its normal starting point due to a closed access point.
When asked if she thought the fire would affect the remainder of her season, Nefzger said she wasn't sure, but she is optimistic.
"You never know. If a fire starts on the river, things might change," she said. "I hope it doesn't, because we're packed until the end of the season."
For Fenn, though, his season is over. He said he's made the decision to stop the rest of his tours, which were meant to last until Sept. 2. At nearly 70 customers a day during the summer, that's a loss for Fenn of about 1,400 paying customers this year.
"It's a little hard to swallow on the pocketbook," he said. "That's a big chunk. It's a tough call. Do you keep floating the river and do what you can, or do you close and get everyone out and the buildings tucked in?"
Fenn said that he and Forest Service crews have been wetting down the buildings and clearing brush and equipment away. The Sunbeam Village Grill—formerly Grumpy's North—is still open, but Fenn said it's only feeding fire crews.
"We have a lot of fire trucks and a lot of crews and they feel pretty good they can defend this property," he said.
Smoke from this fire has been choking the Wood River Valley for the last couple of days, settling into the valley and refusing to budge despite sometimes-brisk winds.
Rick Baird, manager of Friedman Memorial Airport, said Thursday that the smoke is causing "significant" problems for general aviation and commercial pilots.
"We had delays, diversions and cancellations," he said, adding that SkyWest and Horizon airlines both discontinued flights into Sun Valley after 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Baird said that visibility at the airport dropped to less than three-quarters of a mile—and the minimum visibility that would allow most aircraft to land in most approaches is roughly two miles.
"In my years here, I have never seen smoke visibility this low," he said. "There were some times during the Castle Rock Fire when visibility was a challenge, but I would say [visibility now] is as bad or worse."
According to a Salmon-Challis National Forest news release, the Halstead Fire has an "extreme" growth potential and is in extremely "difficult" terrain.
The release states that the fire has the chance to grow to the east and southeast along the Basin Creek drainage and near the West Fork of Yankee Creek, as well as to the northeast in the Loon Creek drainage.
The release also states that the fire will continue to be active on the western and northern borders.
However, fire crews—including 297 personnel, 26 engines and three helicopters—will work to hold the fire to the east of Marsh Creek, east of Highway 21 and north of Stanley, also laying in lines to protect Stanley proper.
Access via Stanley River Road changes on a daily basis, but as of press time Thursday afternoon, Highway 75, Highway 21 and Boundary Creek Road to the Middle Fork remained open.
For more current information, recreationists can call the fire information center at (877) 356-8984.
The American Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees at the Bellevue Community Church at 3098 Cedar St. in Bellevue.
The Trinity Ridge Fire near Featherville has grown as well, reaching 69,216 acres as of Thursday morning and destroying four structures and four outbuildings.
Gov. Butch Otter issued a state disaster declaration on Wednesday that allowed the Idaho Department of Lands to work with the Idaho National Guard to support the firefight in Elmore County and across the state.
According to the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, Elmore County officials have also requested help from FEMA to support threatened communities.
Lisa Machnik, public information officer for the Trinity Ridge Fire, said that the few residents of the historic community of Rocky Bar near Featherville cleared the area before the fire worked its way around the town, sparing most of the community.
Though most of the structures are historic and unoccupied, Machnik said the community does have a few residents who were evacuated.
"There are some cabins and home sites there," she said, adding that some residents were temporarily allowed back into their homes during the day on Thursday to pick up their belongings.
Though neither Pine nor Featherville is under a mandatory evacuation, Machnik said that many of the residents—especially in Featherville—are choosing to leave.
"People are packing up their papers and valuables and moving out of the area," she said.
The town of Atlanta has been evacuated as well, she said.
Neither the Trinity Ridge nor the Halstead Fire has an estimated time of containment.
For more information on closures, evacuations and the fires themselves, visit www.inciweb.org/state/13.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com