Idaho wildfires: Atlanta residents can return Wednesday (with a few strings attached)

Statesman staff and wire reportsAugust 27, 2013 

Lightning illuminates the smoke-filled skies near Atlanta, Idaho, where firefighters are battling a 23,000-acre fire.

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AIR QUALITY

Visibility at the Boise Airport dropped to 7 miles Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said, and ranged between that and 10 miles or more during the day and early evening.

The state Department of Environmental Quality issued a yellow, or moderate, air quality alert for Wednesday in the Treasure Valley.

IDAHO FIRES

The Beaver Creek Fire near Hailey and Ketchum had burned 111,422 acres by Tuesday night. It was 93 percent contained, and fire managers still expected to have it fully contained by Saturday. They said no active fire behavior was observed on Tuesday, and growth potential appeared low.

A public meeting was held Tuesday night in Ketchum, and another is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Campus in Hailey.

On a related note, police arrested a teenager suspected of stealing computers, coins and other valuables from the cars of people preparing to flee from the fire.

Casey E. Farley, 18, of Boise targeted seven loaded vehicles after returning to the area as flames crept toward the town of Hailey on Aug. 21, Police Chief Jeff Gunter said.

At the height of the Beaver Creek fire, more than 2,000 homes were evacuated and thousands of other residents were under pre-evacuation orders urging them to have their cars packed with valuables and keepsakes so they could leave at a moment’s notice.

Farley was charged in 5th District Court with four counts of burglary and one count of grand theft, the Idaho Mountain Express reported. He was also charged with misdemeanor drug possession.

Farley was being held in Blaine County Jail in Hailey. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 4.

Residents of Atlanta, put under mandatory evacuation by the 23,000-acre Little Queens Fire, will be allowed to return Wednesday morning — with a few stipulations — the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office announced.

It’s the only opportunity they will be allowed to return until the area opens to the general public. Also, residents are being advised to stay for a few days after they return to their homes. They won’t be allowed to leave and return.

If you are affected, bring proof of residency to Rocky Bar/James Creek Road at 10 a.m. You will be escorted in using James Creek. Use caution, as fire personnel are still in the area, and hazards such as falling, burned trees exist.

The fire was 20 percent contained. Estimated containment is Oct. 30. The cause is being investigated.

Cooler temperatures and humidity helped slow the growth of the 400-acre Kelley Fire near Featherville, Sawtooth National Forest Public Affairs Officer Julie Thomas said.

A forest closure was in effect from Skeleton Creek to the forest boundary near Featherville. The closure includes Baumgartner Campground.

Thomas said there were some structures threatened on private inholdings — pieces of ground on forest land owned by individuals.

Featherville and Pine were not threatened, Thomas said.

The 131,258-acre Elk Complex 10 miles southwest of Pine has burned 131,258 acres and was 95 percent contained. It was taken over Tuesday by a Type 4 firefighting organization. Full containment is still expected by Saturday.

RIM FIRE

Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for the explosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say.

The fire had ravaged 282 square miles by Tuesday, the biggest in the Sierra’s recorded history and one of the largest on record in California.

Containment increased to 20 percent, but the number of destroyed structures rose to 101 and some 4,500 structures remained threatened. The types of lost buildings were not specified. Firefighters were making stands at Tuolumne City and other mountain communities.

The blaze was just 40 acres when it was discovered near a road in Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17, but firefighters had no chance of stopping it in the early days.

Fueled by thick forest floor vegetation in steep river canyons, it exploded to 10,000 acres 36 hours later, then to 54,000 acres and 105,620 acres within the next two days. On its 11th day, it had surpassed 179,400 acres, becoming the seventh-largest California wildfire in records dating to 1932.

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