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Castle Rock Fire marching north and east

Blaze threatening three Ketchum-area neighborhoods

By :GREGORY FOLEY

The Castle Rock Fire that is marching from Warm Springs Canyon northward has grown to more than 7,000 acres and is still threatening three neighborhoods north and west of Ketchum. Officials said Sunday evening that the fire is growing in size and had shifted in an eastward direction from the head of Adams Gulch and the Fox Creek drainage toward state Highway 75.

Highway 75 north of Ketchum from Hulen Meadows subdivision to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters was marked Sunday night as a "residents only" stretch of road. Some of the firefighting efforts are being staged from this area.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for all of Warm Springs Road west of the Ketchum city limits. The order, issued with the authority of the governor's office, does not pertain to areas inside the city limits.

At the same time, the city of Ketchum issued notice that residents of Gates Road (near Warm Springs Village) and to the east on Warm Springs Road to Short Swing Lane should be prepared to evacuate.

"The fire has spread over the ridge between Adams Gulch and Warm Springs drainage," a 4 p.m. city news release stated. "Due to a change in fuel types, we expect rapid fire growth on the south-facing slope on the north side of Warm Springs Road, above the Lower Board Ranch."

An Express reporter at 4:30 p.m. Sunday reported seeing ridgetop flames north of Lower Board Ranch that were shooting 200 feet above ground level.

Lower Board Ranch resident Will Caldwell, with his wife, Julie, decided not to evacuate his house. In an interview Sunday evening, he said he believes the greatest threat to his house is burning embers dropping onto the roof, not a wall of fire marching into the area and engulfing the residence.

"I feel like if any threat to my home materializes, I want to be here to to protect my house from being enflamed," he said. "I would rather do what I can to protect my house."

Caldwell said at 7 p.m. Sunday that the Board Ranch was "like a ghost town." However, he said his observations indicate the fire is moving north and, although there are flames on the ridge high above the development, there appeared to be no immediate danger of the fire moving quickly into his area.

"It looks like it is moving on," he said.

The city of Ketchum on Sunday morning issued voluntary evacuations for :

1) Adams Gulch west of the river.

2) All of Hulen Meadows.

Ketchum police and volunteers were dispatched Sunday afternoon to oversee the evacuations and inform area residents of the dangers posed by the fire. Homes in the Bassett Gulch area were evacuated Saturday at approximately 5 p.m.

In addition, Bald Mountain is closed to all entry and recreational activities and the following roads are closed: the bridge at Hulen Meadows, Adams Gulch Road, and Warm Springs Road west of where the pavement ends. Authorities are advising that people stay away from the at-risk neighborhoods to allow full access to emergency vehicles.

The fire on Sunday morning was burning within approximately one mile of the Upper Board Ranch, with flames moving steadily north toward Adams Gulch and Hulen Meadows, said Ed Cannady, fire information officer for the Sawtooth National Forest. On Sunday afternoon wind gusts exceeding 35 miles per hour fanned the flames and sent columns of gray smoke billowing into the sky northwest of downtown Ketchum.

Cannady said the winds predicted for Sunday were expected to foster "a very active burning day."

Boise National Forest representative David Olson arrived at Ketchum City Hall Sunday afternoon to take over as the public information officer for the Castle Rock Fire. He said high winds Saturday forced fire managers to temporarily call off the aerial attack on the fire. The same thing might occur Sunday, he said.

"Obviously, one of things we're struggling with today is the high wind," he said.

Olson said Forest Service officials had established "trigger points" for Adams Gulch and Hulen Meadows at which mandatory evacuations would be ordered if the fire reached them.

As of Sunday afternoon, the fire had not burned any structures, officials said. Four Forest Service "recreation residence" cabins were sprayed with protective foam Saturday and engines remained on site to protect them. They are still believed to be intact.

Cannady said the fire's proximity to Bald Mountain has raised concerns but the firefighting effort would immediately focus on saving the at-risk neighborhoods. "It would take some squirrelly winds to get it to Bald Mountain," he said.

The blaze poses "a very serious threat" to the Board Ranch neighborhood, he said Sunday morning. "They have plenty to worry about."

Public lands and trails on the west side of Highway 75 from Deer Creek Road north to Baker Creek Road have been closed, Cannady said. The closures include Adams Gulch, Fox Creek and Chocolate Gulch.

"We're very serious about these closures," he said.

About 400 firefighters were battling the blaze Sunday afternoon with the assistance of two heavy airtankers, two heavy helicopters, two light helicopters, two "hotshot" crews, 12 engines and six "regular" crews. More firefighters have been called in.

Click to enlarge map.

The blaze has been given a status of being one of the highest-priority fires in the West. A Type-1 incident management team from California arrived on the scene today and will take over Monday morning at 6 a.m.

The lightning-caused Castle Rock Fire started burning early on Thursday, Aug. 16, about 10 miles west of Ketchum in the Warm Springs Creek drainage.

On Saturday, the fire jumped from the south side of Warm Springs Creek Road and began burning up Rooks Creek towards the Warm Springs Ridge area. The fire, which was estimated at just 30 acres on Friday, began burning a quarter of a mile south of the Warm Springs Creek Road somewhere in the vicinity of where Castle Gulch and Bar Gulch come together.

Cannady said high winds caused the fire to march three miles in three hours Saturday. The fire on Saturday burned north-facing areas of heavy, old-growth Douglas fir and some south-facing areas composed of a mix of vegetation, he said.

As a health precaution, individuals with lung and heart conditions are advised to leave the Wood River Valley by 5 p.m. Sunday, if they have the resources to do so. Evacuees should take all medications and pertinent medical records with them, the city of Ketchum advises. Those who cannot leave are advised to stay indoors and seal all windows and doors to reduce the amount of smoke that could enter their residences.

The city also advises that precautions should be taken to limit the exposure of the very young and elderly to the widespead smoke from the fire. All residents and visitors should avoid outside physical activity and strenuous exertion.

Those seeking additional information can visit Ketchum City Hall, call the Ketchum Ranger District at 622-5371, or visit www.blainecounty.org.

The city of Ketchum is seeking assistance from volunteers. To volunteer, check the Blaine County Web site or call Ketchum City Hall.

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