Friday, August 23, 2013

New fire team to take over Sunday

Forest closure expected to be lifted for unburned areas


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

Fire Information Officer Rudy Evenson looks over work by firefighters Wednesday to wrap bridges in the Baker Creek drainage in aluminum to protect them from the fire. Photo by Roland Lane

As containment of the Beaver Creek Fire approaches, a new management team will take over on Sunday to supervise mop-up and rehabilitation work.
    The Type 2 team of about 35 people will be less than half the size of the current Type 1 team. Incident Planning Section Chief Brian Eldridge said a few members of the current team will remain.
    “They’ll provide a good bridge to make sure the incoming team has the information they need,” Eldridge said.
    He said Thursday that the number of people working on the fire has been reduced from about 1,700 to about 1,400 as firefighters’ 14-day maximum work periods were reached. He said another 250 people would leave today. He said two mid-size helicopters are also being released today to fight other fires.
    During a staff briefing Thursday morning, Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said Thursday would be the last shifts for the engine crews doing structure protection in the Wood River Valley.
    “We’ll still be here, we just won’t be out patrolling,” he said. “We can put together a lot of equipment quickly with our staff valleywide.”
    Elle said hot spots will probably continue to flare up along the face of Carbonate Mountain and in Timber Gulch, and asked people not to call to report those.
    “But if something happens on the east side of the valley or south of Croy Canyon, anything out of the known fire perimeter, we do need to know about that,” he said.
    Fire managers were told during the briefing that the west side of the fire should be contained by the end of the day Friday.
    Operation Sections Chief Jeff Surber said the effort to create a line around the fire on its northeast side near Baker Creek Road was “looking real good,” and the situation in Timber Gulch, south of Ketchum, was “getting more secure by the day.” No fire activity was visible there Thursday morning.
    Surber said that in Croy Canyon, hand crews plan to light a fire Thursday evening along the ridges above the headwaters of Wolftone Creek to complete a scraped fire-safety line to the west.
    Surber said the overall goal is not to extinguish the fire, but to tamp it down enough that it can’t create new spots outside of the perimeter. Liaison Officer Bill Bryant said the fire may not be completely out “until the snow flies.”

    Incident Planning Section Chief Eldridge said some of the people working on the Beaver Creek Fire will no doubt be sent to the Little Queens Fire, which is burning in the Sawtooth Wilderness and threatening the small town of Atlanta. As of Thursday morning, it was reported to have spread to 10,352 acres with no containment after starting Saturday. The cause is as yet unknown.
    According to the Inciweb Internet site, 247 firefighters were assigned to the fire Thursday and were working to protect Atlanta and its 19th-century mining-era buildings.
    Fire Information Officer John Zapell said that as more resources are assigned to the fire, more effort will be put into containing it.
    “We’re going to be trying to get crews in there, but it’s going to be real slow going, looking at that terrain,” he said.

    As of Thursday, a closure remained in effect for areas in the Sawtooth National Forest west of state Highway 75 as well as north of the highway in the Boulder Mountains. Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said he hoped that all trails outside of the burned area could be opened by the middle of next week in time for the Labor Day weekend.
    Nelson said Baker Creek Road will stay closed until Forest Service crews can bring out tree limbs and other material that was cleared from around cabins there.


Valley resident Nate Galpin captured this image of an elk poking through its old habitat out Greenhorn Gulch Wednesday evening. “Those poor elk were so tired and thirsty I think it might have broken my heart,” said Galpin. The former U.S. alpine team snowboarder and conceptual artist shared this photo with Express readers, saying, “The valley and experience belongs to everyone.” Randy Smith, Regional Wildlife Manager for Idaho Fish and Game, said many animals will be returning to their old stomping grounds, but will move on to other grazing areas if left alone. The ungulates require a more varied diet than the average citizen can provide, and interrupting their movement could cost them their lives. Along their migration, “they manage to find those little untouched islands of country, but they know what they like and what they need and they will go find it.” Smith said the elk and deer population is going into winter a little weaker than they would like to see because it has been dry, but that nature—given a little rain—will soon produce the highly digestible nutrients. “The Castle Rock Fire created some pretty good groceries,” Smith said.
Photo by Nate Galpin

    “[The firefighters] were kind of messy when they were getting ready for the fire to come through,” he said.
    Nelson said a preliminary look at Greenhorn Gulch indicated that it was intensely burned. He said that and other burned areas will probably remain closed until spring.
    “We’ve got trees that are halfway burned through that will have to be taken care of,” he said. “We’re asking people to be patient.”
    Nelson said he hopes that the Beaver Creek Fire will have resulted in a mosaic pattern of burned and unburned areas, as occurred with the 2007 Castle Rock Fire, but said, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
    He said a Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation team will go through the area in September and create a rehabilitation plan. He said that plan and a funding request will be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Region office in Ogden, Utah. He said funding for that plan will be in competition with plans from other burned areas.
    Eldridge said fire-fighting crews are already doing rehabilitation work on dozer lines in areas that have cooled, and excavating equipment will probably go in to flatten the dozer berms and pull vegetation over the scarred areas. He said water bars will be installed to spread out runoff to reduce erosion, and obstacles will be created to prevent vehicle access.

    The Coyote Yurts, near Fox Peak in the East Fork of Baker Creek drainage, were casualties of the fire. Sun Valley Trekking Co. reported that the two yurts were destroyed by the fire, probably on Monday, Aug. 19.
    Company co-owner Joe St. Onge said that despite the national forest closure, he was able to go up to the yurts with a member of the fire crew a few days before they were destroyed to retrieve some items, but he did not have the time or manpower to dismantle the yurts.
    St. Onge said he plans to rebuild something there by this winter, and estimated that it would cost about $25,000 in materials alone to replace the two yurts, one 24 feet in diameter and the other 16 feet.
    “The odd thing that we learned from the Castle Rock Fire is that it opened up some incredible skiing,” he said.
    He said Thursday that the fire was also close to the company’s Tornak Yurt.

    On Wednesday, the incident command post received a visit from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
    Nikki Watts, Simpson’s press secretary, said such visits help the congressman educate other members of Congress about the nation’s fire-fighting needs. Simpson, who is chair of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, has proposed a $6 million increase in federal funding for fire-fighting resources for 2014.
    Watts said Simpson was able to procure more resources to fight the Castle Rock Fire after he made a similar visit then, but was not informed of any such needs this time.
    John Sandy, Risch’s chief of staff, said the senator has long focused on improving national forest management.
    “Anytime you can get on the ground and talk to the people who are fighting the fires, it gives you a better understanding, so that when you get back to Washington, D.C., you can talk about it,” Sandy said. “I think it was an eye-opener what those firefighters did to save those homes in Greenhorn. It was a super-human effort. They literally risked their lives.”


Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com


Members of the Pike’s Hotshots, from Monument, Colo., take a break from work Wednesday in the Baker Creek drainage.
Express photo by Willy Cook




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