On the eve of the anniversary of the 2007 Castle Rock Fire, a human-caused wildfire flared up southwest of Ketchum, causing some to fear for their houses and property.
The Enclosure Fire, a 179-acre fire on a ridge between the Red Warrior and North Fork of Deer Creek drainages, was reported at about 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16. The fire started five years to the day, almost to the hour, that the 48,000-acre Castle Rock Fire was reported to have started in roughly the same area.
Forest Service officials originally estimated the fire at 250 acres, then 350, before GPS mapping Saturday set it at 179 acres burned.
Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said that in less than two hours the fire had spread rapidly from the one acre originally reported. BLM and U.S. Forest Service helitack teams arrived on the scene Thursday night, but were grounded for hours due to smoke from the Trinity Ridge Fire near Featherville. However, teams were able to drop retardant on the fire and slow it significantly before dark Thursday.
Nelson said a major concern at the time was the amount of fuel available to the fire if it were to spread far enough south.
“The concern was, if we had shifting winds that came out of the west or northwest, that [the fire] had the potential to go into heavy fuels and timber in the Deer Creek drainage and wrap around to Greenhorn and Deer Creek [neighborhoods],” he said.
A “structure protection task force” was set up Thursday afternoon, made up of firefighters and equipment from Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Wood River Fire & Rescue.
Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said 20 volunteers, five engines and a support vehicle were spread throughout the Warm Springs, Deer Creek and Greenhorn Gulch drainages, informing residents and setting up for potential structure protection.
Those volunteers were released Friday night, as the fire continued to hold steady.
Total containment was reached as of 6 p.m. Sunday. Complete extinguishing is expected later this week.
Nelson said the fire never came closer than about three miles to private property in the Frenchman’s Bend area of Warm Springs, five miles from private land in Greenhorn and six miles from the top of Bald Mountain.
Early investigation showed that the fire was human-caused, based on factors that Nelson said include point of ignition and anything that can be pinpointed, such as a tree struck by lightning.
Nelson said Forest Service lightning detection maps did not show any activity in the area, which partially led to the human-caused ruling. He said he could not comment further on the fire’s cause, but said that it is under a federal investigation.
During a Ketchum City Council meeting Monday, Mayor Randy Hall alleged that the fire was set intentionally.
“It’s sad that there was someone running around trying to re-create one of our community’s most challenging times on the event’s fifth anniversary,” he said.
In an interview Tuesday, Hall said he did not have official sources that told him it was intentional. However, he added that he is “very angry” that someone could have intentionally set the fire and pulled resources from other regional fires.
“I’m just using my intuition,” he said. “It’s suspicious, and it’s being investigated as a suspicious fire. This isn’t someone camping with their family who let a fire get away from them.”
Nelson said he could not comment on whether the fire was set intentionally, but he did say that the timing of the incident seemed coincidental.
“It was just kind of a ‘Wow, how could that be on the eve of the same day that Castle Rock started?’” he said. “Just the coincidence was kind of eerie, and I’m sure [the feeling] was the same in the community.”
The Castle Rock Fire threatened Bald Mountain and several communities in the northern Wood River Valley but no structures were lost.
An air quality alert is still in effect for Blaine, Camas and Custer counties, due to smoke from the Trinity Ridge, Halstead and Mustang Complex fires in the region. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality reported Tuesday that the air is “unhealthy for sensitive individuals,” and would likely remain that way through Wednesday. All open burning has been prohibited for Blaine and Camas counties due to the smoke. Sensitive groups, including the elderly, children and those with existing health conditions, should limit exertion. All other residents of these counties should avoid strenuous or prolonged exertion outdoors.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com