Idaho's Elk Complex Fire burns homes at Fall Creek

Property owners may be able to visit their homes Monday.

STATESMAN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTSAugust 15, 2013 

  • WILDFIRE THREATENS HOMES IN UTAH

    Shifting winds pushed the fire toward homes in a subdivision about 10 miles outside Park City. It destroyed a dozen homes Tuesday, plus another home overnight. Fire officials say it also burned 20 outbuildings and several vehicles and boats.

    The fire began near a populated area and had grown to 2,000 acres, or nearly 3 square miles, by Wednesday evening. About 250 homes northeast of Park City remain threatened, including some along a golf course in the gated community of Promontory.

    Residents who hoped to return home Wednesday night aren’t likely to be allowed back in until Thursday at the earliest, said Utah fire official Mike Eriksson. Some were allowed to pick up pets and medication early Wednesday.

    The lighting strike that ignited the blaze Tuesday shook a convenience store, then spread into the gated communities of Rockport Ranches and Rockport Estates.

— The Elk Complex wildfires have claimed 38 homes and 43 outbuildings, according to fire managers.

All 38 homes burned were located in the Fall Creek area, along the western shore of Anderson Ranch Reservoir, said Lisa Keibler, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

The houses were lost during the first 48 hours after the fire started, she said.

“It was during the quick-moving time when it had the fuels and the erratic fire behavior,” she said.

Fallen trees across the road leading to Fall Creek made it impossible to get to the area and assess the damage until recently, she said. Elmore County Sheriff’s Office deputies went to the scene to count the burned and damaged structures.

“They do the assessment, they’re the ones who go in and take a look [and] contact the owners,” Keibler said.

Firefighters were in the area when the homes burned, but it was unclear whether or not they were on scene.

Crews are alert for erratic fire behavior Thursday after the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the Boise National Forest and parts of the Payette and Sawtooth forests. The warning, starting at noon, means weather conditions could aggravate existing fires or contribute to new ones starting. The forecast calls for extremely low humidity, high temperatures and unstable, dry air.

The estimated cost to fight the Elk Complex Fire had reached $2.7 million by Wednesday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Home and cabin owners sought updates on their properties after the Tuesday evening news that at least 53 structures burned in Fall Creek. The nearly 112,000-acre wildfire has claimed a total of 81 structures, fire managers said.

It took days for law enforcement to assess the damage, given unstable conditions left in the wake of the flames. The Elmore County Sheriff’s Office set up a phone number Wednesday for property owners to call. The number — (208) 653-2505 — will be staffed daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; property owners can also email pineincidentcommand@gmail.com.

Property owners could be escorted into the area as early as Monday, according to the sheriff’s office. A community meeting for more information has been set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Elks Lodge in Mountain Home, 325 S. 3rd W.

The lightning-ignited fire became the top priority in the nation this week. It continues to threaten nearby Pine and Featherville, where crews are doing burnout operations to push the flames farther north, into an area that burned last year.

Click here for photos from Wednesday's firefighting efforts in and around Pine.

Click here to watch a video of firefighters starting a backburn Wednesday night.

VIP visit: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell will tour the Elk Complex Friday afternoon. Both officials also will visit the nearly 24,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire and take media questions at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, according to a notice from Otter’s office.

Air quality: Wildfire smoke continued to pour out across southern and central Idaho. Smoke from the Beaver Creek Fire canceled a Josh Ritter concert in Sun Valley. Air quality Thursday in the Treasure Valley is predicted to be yellow, or “moderate,” with outdoor burning prohibited everywhere in Ada and Canyon counties.

Click here to view a NASA photo showing Idaho's four largest wildfires, including the Elk Complex, from space

Outages: Idaho Power crews continued to try to repair damage to the utility’s system. Power was restored Wednesday to the Anderson Ranch Bluffs subdivision, the Lester Creek area and the town of Prairie, with Fall Creek expected to join that list. Pine could have electric service again by Thursday evening, but crews still can’t reach the area north of Featherville, the utility announced in a press release. For updates, call 208-388-2323, or 800-488-6150 from outside the Treasure Valley.

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