Trish Woodruff made three trips to Boise to take her treasures and mementos from her cabin on the banks of the South Fork of the Payette River when the Pioneer Fire was bearing down on the forest community of Lowman a week ago.
With the road to Stanley open Monday, and the need to evacuate eased, Woodruff hauled one load back via Ketchum and Stanley. She was ready to drive back to Boise for more of her belongings on newly opened Idaho 21 on Tuesday afternoon, but strong winds stoked the fire north of Lowman and made her pause.
“I want to be here to keep the sprinklers going,” said Woodruff.
The opening of Idaho 21 between Lowman and Idaho City made life easier for the residents here, who are spread out in the Boise National Forest along the highway for nearly 12 miles. But it didn’t end the threat from the 101-square-mile fire, which burned hotter Tuesday despite a temperature of 65 degrees.
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Firefighters cleared around residences and empty summer cabins. Residents themselves ran pumps from the river to water down their lawns. Hoses snaked around hillside homes, with fire-resistant steel roofs and wide-spaced trees to help in the event of a firefight. Contractors, loggers and firefighting crews were clearing both sides of Clear Creek Road, which connects Lowman with Bear Valley, to turn it into a fire break.
The biggest challenge for firefighters Tuesday was the fire line north of Lowman on Idaho 17, which remains closed due to rocks on the highway.
When the fires burn up, the rocks come down.
Incident commander Beth Lund
More than 1,600 firefighters were battling a blaze that already has cost $29 million to fight. The fire will burn into September at least, and Boise National Forest officials and firefighters said that fire season is expected to continue deep into the fall — as is usually the way it looks in Idaho in August.
Still, the opening of Idaho 21 allowed Stanley’s Barbara Gudgel to drive her sister, Christine Jones, of St. Petersburg, Fla., straight home after picking her up at the Boise Airport. She had driven from Stanley to Boise on Monday via Ketchum.
“When you have to go to Boise and both (Idaho) 21 and 17 are closed, that’s a real pain,” Gudgel said.
The two sisters were planning to hike in the Sawtooths and were hoping to see wildlife along the road to Stanley if it wasn’t too smoky.
New owners Chris and Beth Armour had just opened the South Fork Lodge in Lowman on July 29 when the fire reached the Rock Creek drainage next door and closed the roads. But the business owners were lucky.
Firefighters set up a spike camp in the meadow behind the lodge, and law enforcement officials and contractors fill the lodge’s rooms. They weren’t ready to open their restaurant, but they have opened an outside canteen with drinks, ice cream and snacks.
“It allowed us to keep some cash flow coming in,” Chris Armour said.