Whiskey Complex Fire triples in size; roadblocks set up

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJuly 17, 2014 

Gusts of up to 20 mph Thursday afternoon invigorated the Whiskey Complex fires east of Garden Valley, officials said.

The Whiskey Complex tripled in size Wednesday, growing from about 1,600 acres to 4,700 acres. It’s just 5 percent contained, and officials don’t expect full containment until July 30.

Smoke from the fire caused hazy conditions in Boise on Thursday, with visibility dropping to a low of two miles at 9 a.m. It will be much the same Friday, with a yellow air quality alert in effect for the Treasure Valley.

All outdoor and woodstove or fireplace burning is prohibited in Ada and Canyon counties and all their cities.

Poor visibility in the mountains Thursday morning prevented helicopters from battling the fires, but gusts at 1 p.m. cleared the air enough to allow seven helicopters to fly.

The Whiskey Complex is moving south toward the 10 homes in the spread-out Pioneerville community. The area has a mix of year-round residents and summer cabins, Boise County Sheriff Ben Roeber said Thursday.

“The priority today is to keep it from going farther south,” Boise National Forest spokesman Dave Olson said Thursday morning.

More than 300 people are working the Boise County fires. About 80 people attended a public meeting about the fires in Garden Valley on Thursday.

NOTIFICATIONS, ROADBLOCKS

Pioneerville is under a Level 2 voluntary evacuation order, meaning residents should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

“I went up and personally did the order two days ago. ... Everyone that I had talked to that day was already packed, or were planning on leaving, or could leave at a moment’s notice,” Roeber said.

He added: “Nobody has drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘Absolutely not, I’m refusing to leave.’ ”

The Sheriff’s Office on Thursday blocked Grimes Pass Road, which goes to Pioneerville. Residents who leave will not be allowed back in until conditions improve, and others will not be allowed in.

The sheriff also put up a road block at South Fork Payette River Road. Residents are being allowed in, and others are being turned away.

A Level 2 voluntary evacuation is in place for South Fork Payette River Road. There are about 60 homes in that area.

“If the fire changes direction or spots, we don’t want the public in that area,” Roeber said.

Two of the biggest fires of the 18 that make up the Whiskey Complex became one fire Wednesday. The Wash Fire moved upslope from the South Fork Payette River and merged with the Calder Fire, which was burning on the ridge. 

Another big fire in the Whiskey Complex is the Grimes Fire, where firefighters are preparing for a burnout.

A community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Centerville Community Center. Updates on the suppression efforts will be provided at the meetings.

POOR AIR QUALITY

As expected, smoke from the Whiskey Complex fires drained into the Treasure Valley overnight.

Air quality in the morning was very poor in Boise — even in the range of unhealthy for all persons, not just sensitive people.

“From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., when the inversion is the strongest, we had some red numbers,” said Michael Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

By midafternoon, air quality had improved to the healthy range in the Valley, Toole said. A real-time air monitor showed improvement in Idaho City as well, though still unhealthy for sensitive persons.

Trudy Jackson, owner of Trudy’s Kitchen, said visibility was good Thursday afternoon.

“I’m telling you, it’s not bad up here,” she said.

Business has dropped off drastically over the past couple days — in part because people think the fires are much closer to the city than they are, she said.

She questioned the accuracy of DEQ’s air quality sensor and asked where it is. Toole said it’s on top of the Sheriff’s Office, right in the middle of Idaho City.

Toole said westerly winds Thursday afternoon were helping clear smoke out of the Idaho City area.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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