Friday, August 16, 2013

Greenhorn forest goes up in flames

Beaver Creek Fire makes aggressive run toward central valley

Express Staff Writer

Tents occupy the Beaver Creek Fire command post camp north of Hailey Wednesday. Photo by Roland Lane

Residents were evacuated from Greenhorn Gulch on Thursday as the Beaver Creek Fire continued its inexorable march north across the Sawtooth National Forest.
    “We’re all ready to go,” one woman told a Blaine County Sheriff’s Office deputy parked along the road. “We’re all packed.”
    As deputies went house to house, animals, including 1,300 sheep, were also being pulled out of the area. The evacuation order Thursday morning was for homes west of Golden Eagle subdivision.
    Some of the Wood River Valley’s most popular hiking, biking and horse-riding trails were turned into a sacrifice area so that firefighters could dig a line on the east side of the fire in Greenhorn Gulch, about at the national forest boundary, and use the Castle Rock Fire burn area as a barrier to the current fire’s northward advance.
    Fire Information Officer Jonetta Trued said that was the best and safest control option.
    “There’s nothing stopping it,” Trued said. “When timber gets as old as it is and it’s drought-stressed and it’s beetle-killed and you’ve got turbulent air and you’ve got ignition, you’ve got a perfect recipe for a hot fire.
    “I know it’s hard for people to see their favorite areas blackened, but I would encourage them to look toward the future. Fire is a way for the forest to restore itself.”
    Later on Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents along the west side of state Highway 75 from Timber Gulch, just north of Greenhorn, south to Zinc Spur, including Golden Eagle subdivision. During a briefing for newly arrived firefighters at the incident command post north of Hailey on Thursday morning, Operations Section Chief Evans Kuo had said “trigger points” would be established for potential evacuations at those homes.
    In the Deer Creek drainage north of Hailey, where the fire has made its most easterly reach, residents living west of the Big Wood River were evacuated Tuesday night.
    Farther up the drainage, a small cabin at Clarendon Hot Springs burned Wednesday night. Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said down-canyon winds caused some “pretty dramatic fire behavior” during the night. He said the fire ran up the hillside on the north side of the creek, then one finger of it dropped into a small section of the Clarendon property.
    “The firefighters got pushed back to the Clarendon location,” he said. “They had their hoses in place and they tried valiantly to stop the fire.”
    Lassman said firefighters saved three other buildings at the site, but a guest cabin of about 600 square feet was destroyed.
    He said the fire was held in check at Clarendon, which is about a mile and a half from the next buildings to the east at Deer Creek Ranch.

Click for a larger view.
Map by E.B. Phillips

    Late Thursday afternoon, large air tankers were spotted dropping retardant on the eastern flank of the fire, just west of the Wood River Valley. Operations Section Chief John Gebhard said a night shift of five to seven engine crews would work to keep the fire from encroaching onto structures in the area on Thursday night.
    On its northern end, the fire reached a ridge overlooking Baker Creek on Wednesday night. As of Thursday, there was no direct attack on the fire there due to a scarcity of resources, though firefighters were working to reduce fuels around summer cabins.
    As of Thursday morning, the fire had burned nearly 45,000 acres and was 11 percent contained.
    More than 300 people nearly filled the Community Campus theater in Hailey on Wednesday night to hear an hour-and-a-half update on the fire. Incident Commander Beth Lund reported that 36 large fires are burning in the West, requiring the 16,000 firefighters working them to be thinly spread. She said 12 of those fires are in central and southern Idaho. Lund said more resources should become available for the Beaver Creek Fire over the next few days as firefighters gain ground on the Pony Complex and McCan fires, burning to the west near Mountain Home and Fairfield.

“I know it’s hard for people to see their favorite areas blackened, but I would encourage them to look toward the future.”
Jonetta Trued
Fire information officer

    “As these other fires get wrapped up, we hope to get about 10 Hotshot crews,” she said.
    On Thursday morning, the Pony Complex was declared 40 percent contained after having burned 144,000 acres, and on Thursday afternoon, the McCan Fire was declared 60 percent contained after having burned about 23,000 acres.
Fire Information Officer Trued said Thursday that 508 people were working on the Beaver Creek Fire, most still on its west side. She said two 20-person Hotshot crews arrived on the east side Wednesday.
Kuo said Thursday that he was expecting more resources to arrive Friday, including four Hotshot crews, two Type 2 hand crews and two “soft tracks,” which are off-road water-delivery engines. He said he hopes those additional resources would allow fire-suppression efforts to begin in Baker Creek.
Local fire districts and the city of Ketchum have entered into an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to share costs for wildfire suppression efforts to protect structures. Under the agreement, the local fire agencies will pay 25 percent of the cost of aerial fire-fighting efforts done within 100 yards of structures when they are undertaken in support of structural suppression efforts on the ground.
    “We’re way more ahead of the curve … than we were with Castle Rock,” Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle told the Ketchum City Council during an emergency meeting Wednesday. “This agreement will protect us from a great deal of financial exposure.”
    At the public information meeting Wednesday night, Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey encouraged people to sign up for evacuation notices on the Everbridge emergency alert system, which is posted on the county’s website, News updates about the fire are also posted on that website.

Greg Moore:

Flames burn in timber above Greenhorn Gulch Thursday afternoon.
Express photo by Willy Cook

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