Clouds, added crews help in fight against Idaho fires

Clouds, added crews help in fight against Idaho fires
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)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Fire managers expressed optimism Sunday in their battle against a wildfire that has scorched nearly 160 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,300 homes near the central Idaho resort communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Officials said the Beaver Creek Fire had grown only about 12 square miles because of cloud cover the day before and the arrival of additional crews and equipment. Many firefighters worked Sunday to create protective firebreaks, or gaps in vegetation aimed at stopping the fire's progress.

"Today they're very optimistic that we will reinforce those lines in case the fire does flare up as we saw on Thursday and Friday," fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman said.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office said Sunday that the Indian Creek area might be returning to pre-evacuation status on Monday, meaning that people could return home if crews can suppress the blaze in the area. | More from  BCSO

Boise National Forest also reported reduced activity on the North Fork and Elk Complex fires. 

People evacuated from their houses in Pine and Featherville have been allowed to return home after crews successfully steered the primary Elk fires into the Trinity Ridge Burn, officials from the forestry department said.

While firefighters have made progress on a few of the wildfires burning Boise National Forestlands, the lightning-sparked Beaver Creek Complex is still considered around 9 percent contained.

More than 1,200 people and 19 aircraft are now battling the lightning-caused Beaver Creek Fire, which started Aug. 7. Nearly 90 fire engines also are in the region, many protecting homes in the affluent area where celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways.

Hartman said Sunday retardant was being dropped on the flank of Bald Mountain — the Sun Valley Resort's primary ski hill — to reinforce a fire line. That meant the famed ski mountain known as "Baldy" and often used in publicity photos would have a red line of retardant visible from Ketchum.

Hartman said the drop was part of a plan by fire managers to bolster protection for the tony resort town. But he noted the fire had not yet reached the mountain.

Fire managers said both of the nation's DC-10 retardant bombers have been used to battle the blaze, but one experienced an engine malfunction after a drop Thursday. The jet made it back safely to Pocatello in southeastern Idaho but remains unavailable.

Hartman said most of the fire's containment is on the south and west sides. The more populated areas are on its eastern side and are where the mandatory evacuations are in place.

Blaine County spokeswoman Bronwyn Nickel said Idaho National Guard soldiers are manning checkpoints at evacuated neighborhoods and helping relieve local law enforcement officers. The Blaine County Sheriff's Office is warning evacuated residents not to return until notified it's safe to do so.

No structures have been destroyed since a house and outbuildings burned Thursday, officials said. On the fire line, a few minor injuries have been reported.

Authorities have told Ketchum and Sun Valley residents to be ready to evacuate if necessary. About 2,700 people live in Ketchum, 1,400 in Sun Valley.

Elsewhere in the West, the last evacuation orders were scheduled to be lifted Monday after a series of mountain fires burned more than a dozen homes in Utah.

More than 100 residents who were forced to leave Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches, about 45 miles east of Salt Lake City, will be allowed to return in the morning.

Among them are family members of a couple who got married over the weekend in a backup ceremony at a century-old church after they had to flee their original venue with the bride's wedding dress.

Tawni Sprouce and Travis Mann planned to exchange their vows at her parents' home overlooking Rockport Reservoir. But the residence was among the scores evacuated after the lightning-sparked Rockport fire burned nearly 2,000 acres.

First, the couple moved the wedding to a campsite at Rockport State Park near the community of Waneship. But rain then pushed the ceremony inside the park's Old Church.

Mann said that given the circumstances, the couple welcomed the moisture. He said Saturday's ceremony eventually went off without a hitch.

Fire officials said Sunday the Rockport fire was 70 percent contained.

Utah's biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire, was estimated at 50 square miles and 25 percent contained Sunday.

Evacuation orders have been lifted for that fire, which burned 10 homes near Willow Springs on Friday. But a portion of State Highway 199 remained closed.

 

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. KBOI2 News contributed to this story.

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The Elk Complex is estimated at 126,366 acres and 55% contained. Crews are planning limited burnout operations today on the northwest flank in order to complete the tie-in with last year’s Trinity Ridge burn.  Equipment is being pulled out of the Pine/Featherville area to prepare for the return of residents later today. Mop-up work remains focused on minimizing risks to the public. Some resources are being released for reassignment to the Beaver Creek fire.

The Elmore County Sheriff’s Office will re-open Pine-Featherville Road and Anderson Dam Road to residents only at 5:00pm today. Proof of residency will be required. Residents are urged to use caution in the area as fire personnel and equipment are still present throughout the community. Idaho Power has indicated all power will be restored to Pine and Featherville by noon today.

The North Fork Fire is approximately 20 miles southeast of Cascade, ID.  The fire is now 322 acres with 20% containment.  Fire behavior diminished somewhat yesterday, which allowed crews to make good progress on the south and west flanks. The north flank is moving into the 2007 Cascade Complex. Crews will focus today on the south, west and east sides due to concern of it moving into unburned and heavy timber. The Stratton Trail on the Emmett and Lowman Ranger Districts is closed in the vicinity of the fire.

The Juni Fire is located 32 miles south of Jordan Valley, OR.  It has grown to 626 acres. Firefighters are burning out from Paine Cabin north to Mud Flat Road. Resources assigned include 5 crews and 9 engines.

New-Little Queens Fire is 6 miles northwest of Atlanta.  This human-caused fire is 1,000 acres with no containment. About 99% of the fire is located within the Sawtooth Wilderness and the Sawtooth National Forest. A small portion has spotted into the Black Warrior drainage on the Boise National Forest. Many old fire burns exist in that drainage, which will likely check the fire’s progress.

The Boise National Forest has initiated a large area closure that extends roughly on the east side from Road 181 to the junction with the Fairfield Ranger District, Sawtooth National Forest boundary, including the Pine/Featherville road; north from Atlanta along the Middle Fork Boise Road (Forest Road 268) over to the Deer Park Rental Cabin; then west along Forest Road 327 to Idaho City and Highway 21 on the west.  Additionally, the Trinity Lakes Recreation area is closed.  The Middle Fork Boise River Road is open from the Spring Shores Marina for residents of Twin Springs and Atlanta and only as long as fire conditions allow.

Stage I fire restrictions are in effect including no campfires outside of an agency designated recreation site until further notice. more information

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From the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office: 

The Indian Creek area may be returning to pre-evacuation status tomorrow. Should current fire suppression efforts continue residents of Indian Creek may be allowed to return via the north end of Buttercup starting at 9am tomorrow. This possible return does not include Ohio Gulch and the Heatherlands. Residents of the Valley Club will then be allowed to return via the north end of Buttercup starting at 10 am tomorrow. Do not attempt to return to evacuated areas until posted.