New Idaho fires rage even as crews make progress on others

The season isn’t over yet despite shorter days, lower temperatures and higher humidity.

August 30, 2013 


    Air quality in the Treasure Valley appeared to be on the decline Friday — at least by one measure.

    The state Department of Environmental Quality downgraded its air quality forecast. The green, or good, status that existed for the past few days was worsened to yellow, or moderate, through the Labor Day weekend.

    Visibility at the Boise Airport, however, held steady at 10 miles or more all day, the National Weather Service said.


    The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that more closures were lifted as crews got closer to containment on the Beaver Creek Fire near Hailey and Ketchum.

    Emergency closures were rescinded for the following:

    • South of Bullion Connector/Bullion Road.

    • North of Croy Creek Road.

    • East of Willow Creek Road.

    • South of Little Beaver Creek Road.

    • East of the ridge between Little Beaver Creek and Beaver Creek.

    • South of the Sawtooth National Forest Boundary.

    • South of the Wolftone Drainage.

    Stay updated on the latest openings at

Firefighters on Friday had nearly surrounded two massive, south-central Idaho blazes, the Beaver Creek and Elk Complex fires. These fires once threatened communities including Sun Valley and kept air tankers, helicopters and scores of hand crews busy in the state for much of the month.

Just weeks ago, Beaver Creek, at more than 170 square miles in all, was bearing down on the towns of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, while the 128,000-acre Elk Complex destroyed dozens of cabins and vacation homes in Falls Creek, a little community along the Boise River’s Anderson Ranch Reservoir about 50 miles east of Boise.

Among Idaho’s new blazes, the Raft Fire along the Snake River’s Brownlee Reservoir 20 miles north of Midvale had expanded to about 7,000 acres by Friday night.

Structures were threatened in Sturgill Creek, a popular spot for all-terrain vehicle riders and mule-deer hunters. Forest visitors in the area were being asked to leave, and the Sturgill Peak Lookout was evacuated.

The blaze spread quickly with the wind through grass, brush and timber-filled draws.

The nearby Hells Canyon Fire was burning nearly 9,400 acres. It was threatening Dennett Creek and pushing toward the Payette National Forest boundary in the area of Iron Mountain. Structure protection was in place at the Mountain Man Lodge and the Mineral Mine site on Dennett Creek.

The Weiser Ranger District implemented an area closure for the south part of the district that was threatened by the fire, and mandatory evacuations were in effect. Spring Creek Campground, Kawanis Campground, Justrite Campground and Paradise Campground were closed and campers were evacuated. Hunting camps also were evacuated. Structures, power lines, cattle and numerous hunting camps were threatened.

Payette National Forest spokesman Brian Harris in McCall warned recreationists to check with officials about fire-related closures for the Labor Day weekend.

Call the Weiser Ranger District for an update on recreation limitations at (208) 549-4200.

Elsewhere in Idaho, crews continued to battle the 23,500-acre Little Queens Fire near Atlanta and the nearly 1,000-acre Kelley Fire southeast of Featherville.

Fire managers at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said they’ve gotten some good news this week amid one of the most dramatic fire years.

After previously downgrading the nation’s fire priority status by one notch, officials announced at a staff meeting this week that there were no outstanding orders for crews to be dispatched to the latest hotspot. That’s a distinct departure from the middle of the month, when there weren’t enough resources to go around, said Robyn Broyles, NIFC spokeswoman.

And it’s a welcome sign that the 2013 fire season is slowly grinding to a halt, with favorable weather across Idaho and the West helping keep flames in check.

“The weather has started to help us out,” Broyles said. “Areas that have had fire activity in the last few weeks are getting ahold of those fires and are being able to supply resources to other areas that need them.”

Given media coverage of Idaho’s Beaver Creek Fire and the massive Rim Fire burning near Yosemite National Park in eastern California, Broyles conceded it may seem hard to believe the nation actually is on track to have the second-lowest number of square miles burned by wildfires in a decade.

That’s largely because rain in states like Florida, Oklahoma and Nebraska kept big, early-season grass fires to a minimum. Only 3.7 million acres had burned across the United States through Friday, about 60 percent of average.

In the West, however, fire activity has been average or above-average, threatening or destroying homes in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

And 31 firefighters have died so far, including 19 in Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30. On average, 17 firefighters die annually.

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