In June, when it seemed as though all of Colorado was on fire, it was quiet in the forested mountains of Idaho.
A series of cool and wet springs had kept the Boise National Forest and surrounding areas moist, unlike much of the U.S., which was suffering with a serious drought and the fires that went with it.
On Monday, one breath of the air in the Treasure Valley told a different story.
Dry, dangerous summer conditions have returned to the Boise National Forest, which is dealing with two active fires in popular recreation areas one near Banks and another near Featherville.
Drivers on the Banks-to-Lowman Highway and floaters on the South Fork of the Payette River had their trips disrupted by the 300-acre Springs Fire, which started near Skinnydipper Hot Springs on Sunday. Fire officials say it was human-caused.
Car and float traffic had to be stopped intermittently all day to allow helicopters to dip into the South Fork to fill water buckets. Residents of about 15 homes in the Frazier Creek subdivision were warned that they might have to evacuate.
By Monday afternoon, three helicopters were dropping water on the fire and two small planes were dropping retardant, while about 130 people on hand and engine crews battled it in grassy and brushy areas.
Rafters were instructed to stop near the Staircase Rapids area if they heard helicopters approaching, and then to get through as quickly as possible after the buckets were filled, said Mo Sim, who works at Idaho Whitewater Unlimited in Garden Valley.
As of 3 p.m., Sim said she had not heard of any problems on the river.
TRINITY RIDGE FIRE
On the eastern side of the forest, the Trinity Ridge Fire grew to an estimated 1,800 acres Monday, burning in heavy timber about 10 miles northwest of Featherville in Elmore County.
Fire officials said it has the potential for major growth because of conditions in the lodgepole pine, sub-alpine fir and brush. The forest there is so dry that ignition probability is 90 percent when embers land on unburned fuel, officials said.
FROM WET TO DRY
Dave Olson, a spokesman for the Boise National Forest, said a recent fuel moisture analysis showed portions of the forest to be as dry as it was in 2006 and 2007, which were the last major fire seasons there. In fact, the forest was drier than it normally is on Aug. 6 by about three weeks.
Jeremy Sullens, a wildfire analyst at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, said Monday that the recent string of hot days has baked land that had above-average moisture in the spring.
What has happened is it is hot and dry all over the Northwest, which is bringing us into a normal type of fire season, Sullens said. For (the Boise National Forest), it is trending slightly above normal conditions.
Even with the conditions, he said, Idaho is nowhere near the same level of drought in Colorado.
Julys average temperature of 81.3 degrees was the fourth-hottest ever recorded for Boise. The month had nine days in the triple digits, including hitting 108 on July 9 and again on July 12.
Its always dry in July, but this year the month saw just .07 inches of rain, compared to the .23 that is normal.
August is off to a blazing start, too temperatures hit 100 on Sunday and 99 on Monday, and the rest of the week will be more of the same.
In the dry Salmon/Challis National Forest, the Halstead Fire near Stanley continued to grow Monday in beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees. A total of 377 firefighters continue to battle the 27,000-acre fire, which is just 1 percent contained. The containment date is estimated for Oct. 16.
HAZY VALLEY AIR
Smoke spread into the Treasure Valley, which combined with wind-blown dust to provide an orange air quality level on Monday, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
An orange alert means the air is unhealthy for people with breathing issues, including those with lung disease, children, older adults and people who are active outdoors.
The air quality is expected to improve Tuesday.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr