Officials fear conditions are ripe for a lightning-sparked wildfire in the Boise National Forest north of Lowman to grow rapidly over the coming days, and the remoteness of its location and the vast amounts of dead and dying timber in the area will hamper efforts to contain it.
The Ridge Fire was sparked at 3 p.m. Tuesday from a lightning storm. Initial attack efforts, with a goal of suppression, were immediate, David Olson, of the Boise National Forest, said. It was initially fought by four air tankers, two helicopters, a helitack crew and a 20-person hand crew. By 6 p.m., it was already 20 acres and growing - even with repeated water and retardant drops. Firefighters reported it burned actively on all flanks through the night, and by morning was an estimated 100 acres.
As Olson explained, the fire resisted containment because firefighters battled sustained windy conditions with gusts to 25 mph throughout the day and into the evening, along with very dry fuel and torching trees.Olson said it's burning in extensive dead timber stemming from bark beetle insect attacks in recent years, and it's burning sub-alpine fir (a conifer tree) which torches easily and casts hundreds of hot embers up to a quarter of a mile away from the main fire front.
On Thursday, the fire was estimated to be burning on 850 acres. Officials said the fire burned aggressively throughout the day Wednesday, when crews were pulled off the fire because there were no adequate safety zones, and firefighters' safety was at risk.
David Olson, of the Boise National Forest, said two hotshot crews arrived early Thursday afternoon. Two helicopters also were aiding the effort. A full-suppression objective was in place because it's a mid-season fire and because of the drought conditions, Olson said.
A Great Basin Type 2 Incident Management Team also arrived Thursday and begin formulating a strategy for containment. That team will assume command of the operation on Friday.
Because of the fires remoteness, no structures or private property are currently threatened by the flames, Olson said. Several trails in the area have been closed, as have a couple of backcountry roads. All primary roads in the area remain open.
Olson said the fire is burning in a relatively popular recreation area in the Upper Clear Creek drainage, although it's not nearly as popular as the nearby Bear Valley recreation area. He said smoky conditions are the only current impact of the fire on Bear Valley.
The fire is burning east of Deadwood Reservoir and in the same area as the Red Mountain Fire of 2006, which burned about 45,000 acres and lasted several weeks. Olson cautioned that the Ridge Fire has the potential to be similar in size and duration.
What we are anticipating is in that type of country with the fuel and terrain its burning in, there will be a lot of backing off and trying to determine a safe location to build fire line, he said.
View Ridge Fire in a larger map
Other Boise National Forest wildfires
As of late Thursday, there were 16 lightning-caused fires from Tuesday's storm. Of those, two - the Ridge and Summit fires - are large and active. The majority of the remaining fires were contained or near containment, Olson said.