More than 2,000 homes were placed under mandatory evacuation orders as the Beaver Creek Fire unfolded. By Tuesday the fire had burned 160 square miles of wild country.
The fire brought friends and relatives in need together with those who have extra room. As many people were being allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday, others were determined to stay clear of the valley until the smoke clears.
Julie Wiethorn lives on a farm with two horses five miles east of Hailey in Croy Canyon. Under mandatory evacuation orders from the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office Friday night, she trailered her horses and drove out of the canyon to a friend’s farm three miles south of Bellevue.
“It was almost dark by the time I got on the highway. By the time I drove through Hailey, the top of Carbonate Mountain [on the north side of the mouth of the canyon] was on fire.
“I have to admit I was pretty unsettled,” Wiethorn said.
By Monday, Wiethorn said she was feeling like part of the family in Bellevue. “I could not have landed at a better spot or been treated more generously that I have been. I am getting into the routine around here.
“The best part is that one of the grandchildren here is learning to ride on my horses.”
Many people from the Wood River Valley fled further south, and further north.
The private cabins at Pettit Lake north of Galena Pass were full of people on Sunday afternoon. Many were talking into cell phones, texting or meeting on trails to share the latest fire updates.
The skies above the lake were clear, but as the afternoon progressed, thick smoke from a new fire near Atlanta began to cover the southern portion of the lake.
Numerous Wood River Valley residents drove to Twin Falls where they filled hotels and gathered at restaurants to share news. The skies were clear above Twin Falls, but a pink glow could be seen 100 miles away on the horizon above the Wood River Valley
Jim Erickson, 68, left Second Avenue in Ketchum on Friday night with his wife and dog and cat under pre-evacuation orders. He and about 75 other valley residents were checked into in the Quality Inn on Canyon Springs Road in Twin Falls on Tuesday.
“We left because of the smoke and because I was recovering from new surgery,” said Erickson. “We thought we would leave before it was necessary.”
Erickson said he and his wife met people from Hailey, Deer Creek, Elkhorn and Indian Creek at the hotel. He said everyone is watching the Blaine County Sheriff’s website for updates.
“We plan to get back by Thursday night,” Erickson said.
Sherry Thorson, 76, left her Deer Creek home with Hailey resident Tewa Evans late Friday night also under mandatory evacuation orders.
Thorson celebrated her 76th birthday the next evening at Elevation 468 Restaurant on the rim of the Snake River Canyon while listening to bluegrass music.
“We table-hopped, talking to about 20 fire refugees from the Wood River Valley,” said Thorson.
“I have a neighbor feeding my chickens in exchange for eggs. It hasn’t been a long time since we left, but it seems like it,” she said.
Evans said many people have dogs and cats with them, and valuables locked in their cars.
“They need to water their plants back home, but they don’t return because they are getting TV reports that the air is hazardous,” Evans said.
Thorson’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren fled the Della View neighborhood Friday night to stay with friends in Old Hailey. By Tuesday, they were back home.
“One of my grandchildren is taking my hair appointment,” said Thorson. “I want to go back, but I can’t risk my lungs for my hair.
“We didn’t want to go but we had to get out. We are not going back until the air is clear, she said.”
East Fork Canyon resident Sheila Liermann left with two neighbors to stay at a mutual friend’s house in Old Hailey on Friday night.
“We hustled and rounded up dogs and cats, and our passports and computers,” Liermann said. She returned to East Fork through a side road to find that many others were back in the neighborhood.
“We have been having communal dinners, sharing food and having some camaraderie to avoid the boredom of not being able to do anything,” said Liermann.
“This fire is really terrible, but it shows us once again that the Wood River Valley rallies and takes care of one another,” she said.