Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fire devastated miles of Croy Canyon

Dramatic blaze lights up Hailey at 3 a.m.

Express Staff Writer

Express photos by Willy Cook Flames from a controlled burn move across the Rotarun ski area Saturday. The hill burned but the structures were saved.

    As the Beaver Creek Fire grew by thousands of acres toward the north and east over the weekend, several miles of hillside on the fire’s southwest flank near Hailey was also destroyed.
    Evening winds out of the north nearly brought the fire out of Croy Canyon into the city of Hailey during the wee hours Saturday morning.
    Hailey residents witnessed a dramatic display as hotshot crews torched the bottom of Carbonate Mountain to keep the fire from coming into town.
    Beaver Creek Fire Information Officer Jake Brollier said that on Friday night the fire was active, coming down Deer Creek Canyon to Osborn Canyon. He said down-canyon winds caused it to spread to the top of Carbonate Mountain above Hailey.
    Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said that he requested pre-evacuation orders for areas in Hailey west of River Street and north of Cedar Street Friday afternoon after a briefing with incident command personnel. At 6:30 p.m. the same evening, the order was changed to become mandatory.
    “I was not consulted on that change,” said Haemmerle.

It was so thick I could hardly see the lights of fire trucks along the road.”
Vance Hanawalt

    After hearing about the change, he drove with Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter several miles west of Hailey at 9:00 p.m. to assess the situation.
    He said he saw fire burning “miles away” in the hills above Croy Canyon. Because the flames seemed to pose no immediate threat, Haemmerle said he recommended that the mandatory evacuations be lifted.
    Beaver Creek Fire managers and law enforcement officials apparently complied with the request. The mandatory evacuation order was lifted around 9:30 p.m.
    Little Indio Road resident Tom Lantry had already packed essential belongings and was leaving his driveway when he got an automatic text message from the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office that said it was OK to remain in his house. So he went to bed.
    “It took me until 1 a.m. to fall asleep,” said Lantry.
    But the situation deteriorated quickly during the night.
    Haemmerle said he was notified at 2:30 a.m. by Hailey police officers that the fire had burned down the west slope of the canyon almost to Croy Canyon Road. The mayor and police chief then drove Croy Canyon Road again to find the fire burning in some places only 200 yards from the road.
    “It was raging by that time,” said Haemmerle, who returned to town. He said he encountered Wood River Fire and Rescue personnel and Beaver Creek Fire Incident Command personnel along the way. He said they quickly saw how serious the situation had become.
    “I was a little taken aback by the fact that no fire personnel had been out there watching the fire,” Haemmerle said.
    By 3 a.m. Saturday morning the mandatory evacuation order for west Hailey was back in effect. It included Della View and Sherwood Forest subdivisions farther south—at Haemmerle’s recommendation.
    Lantry slept through the text message that announced the change, but was awakened by a call from a neighbor.
    At 3:30 a.m., alarms went off at the nearby Summit Apartments near Hop Porter Park in west Hailey. Emergency evacuations began in homes along the Big Wood River. An elderly woman fled the Summit Apartments by riding a bicycle to join relatives in Old Hailey.
    Lantry drove three blocks to River Street and watched as the hillside across the river from his house became covered in flames.
    “It was a running battle at that point. Things were changing very quickly,” he said.
    In order to create a burned area to keep the fire from coming into town, hotshot fire crews used torches to light brush on the north side of Croy Canyon Bridge and launched incendiary canisters across the Big Wood River onto the bottom of Carbonate Mountain.
    Flames shot 300-feet up the steep, east-facing slope of the mountain, lighting up west Hailey and sending some Hailey residents into a panic. The sound of burning brush and trees could be heard five blocks away on Third Avenue in old Hailey.
    “The fire was going to get there anyway,” said Brollier, about the intentional burn-out operation that fire crews conducted Saturday morning
    “They were trying to fight the fire on their terms rather than have it come up on them and threaten homes,” he said.
    Dozens of Hailey residents, some in bathrobes, watched the flames until 5:30 a.m. when the situation appeared to have been brought under control.
    Although Croy Canyon remains off limits to non-essential traffic, some residents have viewed the destruction that befell the canyon over the weekend.
    “From Rodeo Drive to Hailey is all gone, completely black. It is mind-boggling,” said woodworker Vance Hanawalt, who lives six miles west of Hailey on Rock Creek Road in Croy Canyon.
    Hanawalt said he drove out of Croy Canyon Saturday night through smoke so thick he could hardly see the edge of the road.
    “It was so thick I could hardly see the lights of fire trucks along the road,” he said. “They saved the animal shelter, but it burned right up to the chain link fences surrounding it.”
    Brollier said on Tuesday that fire crews are working on six miles of fire line above Croy Canyon. They are using natural features like ridgelines and drainages to try to contain the southern boundary of the fire.
    “We will have boots on the ground making real containment lines,” he said.

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