Forest Service closes central Idaho burned area

Forest Service closes central Idaho burned area
A helicopter makes a drop while battling the Beaver Creek Fire on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 north of Hailey, Idaho.(AP Photo/Times-News, Ashley Smith) Mandatory Credit

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) - Most of the area within a 170-square-mile wildfire that burned in central Idaho last summer will remain closed this year due to safety concerns, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The agency announced the closure Monday, saying that areas that burned in the Beaver Creek Fire near the resort area of Ketchum have been severely eroded.

The order closing the area applies to all human use, including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, motorcycling and mushroom gathering.

"I have been, and continue to be, concerned with the hazards that exist in this area due to fire damage," Kurt Nelson, Ketchum district ranger, said in a statement. "Until we can fully assess the damage, fully implement a restoration plan, and begin to see accomplishments that mitigate the hazards, public use of this area is dangerous and prohibited."

The agency says the highest concerns include eroded trails and roads, and damaged bridges and culverts. Dead trees that can fall are also a concern. Officials said some areas could open if conditions stabilize.

Violating the closure carries a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail.

The Beaver Creek Fire burned through Greenhorn Gulch on Aug. 15 and destroyed one home, but firefighters saved 30 others.

Nelson said the fire burned off vegetation that helps hold soil in place. The lack of plants leads to increased water runoff and erosion.

He said a helicopter has been rehabilitating severely burned areas with grass seed and mulch since early winter. He said that effort will continue through May.

Volunteers will be sent to help establish sagebrush and bitterbrush, and plans call for work crews to repair roads in the Deer Creek, Warm Springs and Baker Creek drainages.

Nelson said district staff and volunteers have started work rehabilitating trails in the region that draws tourists throughout the year.

"Coordination with several user groups and volunteer organizations is occurring, but repairing the vast and significant damage will take some time," said Nelson. "We are optimistic good progress will be made throughout the coming year and are eager to reopen roads, trails and areas as soon as they are safe for public use."