Fire west of Sun Valley forces 1,600 evacuations

Insurance company crews help protect high-end homes from the Beaver Creek Fire.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSAugust 16, 2013 

  • MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

    As of 7 p.m. Friday

    • Baker Creek, west of Idaho 75, south to the North Fork campground and SNRA headquarters including Easley.

    • All of the East Fork area.

    • Timber Gulch south to Zinc Spur on the west side of Idaho 75, including Golden Eagle.

    • All of Greenhorn Gulch.

    • Deer Creek west of the Big Wood Bridge.

    • South of Zinc Spur to the north end of Treasure Lane on the west side of Idaho 75.

    • Indian Creek

    • Ohio Gulch

    • Heatherlands

    • North of East Fork to hospital bridge on east and west sides of Idaho 75, including Broadway Run.

    PRE-EVACUATION AREAS

    Residents in these areas have been asked to prepare to evacuate at a moment's notice and consider leaving now to ease congestion on the highway.

    • Croy Creek Canyon west of the Big Wood Bridge.

    • Indian Creek to North Fork on both sides of Idaho 75. Ketchum, Sun Valley and the Warm Springs area are all part of this list.

    • Treasure Lane South to McKercher Boulevard, including Aspen Lakes.

    • West of River Street in Hailey.

    • North of Cedar Street in Hailey.

Sheriff's deputies on Friday expanded evacuation orders as a wind-driven wildfire burned its way through sage and pine trees in Central Idaho.

The evacuation orders for the 100-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire included homes in drainages and foothills west of Hailey and Ketchum. Managers at the Sun Valley Ski Resort turned on water cannons on Bald Mountain that are normally used for wintertime snowmaking.

One home in an outlying valley was destroyed Thursday night, said Bronwyn Nickel, a spokeswoman for Blaine County.

Nearly 700 state and federal firefighters were dispatched to the blaze in the affluent resort region that's a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. Fire managers plan to augment the crews this weekend as fires elsewhere in Idaho and in Utah come under control, and Gov. Butch Otter assigned the National Guard to provide support.

In addition, some private insurers have sent in their own crews to provide structural protection for homes with values that can stretch into the millions of dollars, Nickel said.

"There are private engines that insurance companies have sent in," she said. "They're on site, they're working with our local firefighters and law enforcement."

Fire officials said strong, gusty winds, low humidity and tinder-dry vegetation created unstable conditions in the area of the Beaver Creek Fire, where a huge DC-10 tanker, capable of carrying 12,000 gallons of retardant, was among the aircraft making drops on the blaze.

Jack Sibbach, a Sun Valley Resort spokesman, had to leave his home south of Ketchum on Friday. He said he watched as airplanes and helicopters made runs in roughly three-minute intervals, dropping water and red retardant to create a barrier against flames west of Idaho 75.

The resort turned on the snow cannons, he said, largely to protect lodges atop the ski hill, should the fire advance that far.

"The fire's not that close to Baldy, but with the wind, you're worrying about things sparking," Sibbach said. "Things could jump ahead."

Flying in separate aircraft, Otter and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell took aerial tours of the fire.

The towns of Ketchum, with a population of 2,700, and Sun Valley, with 1,400 people, were under pre-evacuation orders, with residents advised to prepare their belongings in case they are required to leave on a moment's notice.

Fire managers "are just adding an extra layer of caution to the plan that they started last night," said Rudy Evenson, a spokesman for the federal team overseeing the blaze. "We have a forecast for 30 mph winds at the ridge tops."

The fire is only 6 percent contained, officials said. It has burned 64,236 acres.

TOURISM AFFECTED

The fires forced cancellation of the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, scheduled for Aug. 23-26. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony, slated to run through Tuesday, canceled the remainder of its season.

August brings in more tourism dollars than any month except December, said Doug Brown, executive director of the Wood River Economic Partnership.

"It's the middle of tourist season and tourists and locals are leaving," Brown said. "It's really a tragedy for the economy."

Visitors are calling and "asking, 'What's the situation? Is all of Idaho on fire?' " said Idaho Department of Commerce tourism analyst Cathy Bourner. "People from outside the state ... don't realize how huge this state is."

BAD TRAFFIC

Southbound traffic on Idaho 75 was backed up Friday, as residents and vacationers opted to flee the smoke. Traffic was "bumper to bumper," Hailey resident Jane McCann said.

"The smoke is unbearable," said McCann, who was in her car. "Today in Hailey, you could not see the mountains from Main Street."

Elsewhere in the western United States, a wildfire near a Utah ski resort town that's burned seven houses was about half-contained, allowing some evacuations to be lifted following a day of calm winds that allowed crews to gain the upper hand.

However, about 110 homes located about 10 miles from the 2002 Olympic venue of Park City remained off-limits to their residents, as crews mopped up hot spots.

Statesman reporters Dana Oland and Zachary Kyle contributed.

 

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