High winds spur Soda Fire, closing section of Idaho 78; Red Cross shelter opens

The already massive Soda Fire made a run to Idaho 78 Friday, causing officials to close the highway from Wilson Road east to Idaho 45 at Walter's Ferry about 7:30 p.m.

The fire was propelled by high winds, which the BLM estimated at up to 40 mph. Those winds also forced the grounding of helicopters and air tankers in the area.

Also Friday evening, the Red Cross opened a respite center in Marsing for those affected by the Soda Fire. The center was set to open at 7 p.m. in the LDS Church at 215 3rd Ave. W.

The fire was estimated at 265,000 acres early Thursday but continued to grow to about 272,000 acres by Saturday.

Crews attacked the fire as it approached the highway, dropping retardant and water on it before high winds forced the aircraft to land.

At about 2 a.m. Friday, the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office recommended residents living in the Wilson Creek area evacuate. The evacuation wasn’t mandatory, but the sheriff’s office wanted residents to get out of the threatened area while winds picked up, officials said. The area includes Givens Hot Springs and Hard Trigger Road.

Fire managers were working with Owyhee County officials to keep visitors from traveling to Silver City. Silver City remains open to residents. People were asked to avoid the foothills in the Owyhee Mountains front, particularly the trails between Silver City and Jump Creek. The Jump Creek Recreation Site was closed, as was the Upper Reynolds Road.

A type 1 incident command team was joined the firefighters on Thursday afternoon. The team includes a meteorologist, a fire behaviorist, and other experts.

The Bureau of Land Management is working with local ranchers to make sure gates are open for the evacuation of livestock. The Idaho Humane Society is offering temporary housing for evacuated animals. For more on how the fire is affecting ranchers, follow this link.

Friday, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said it did not expect to have to close or alter any controlled deer or pronghorn hunts in the area due to the fire. Those hunts open Saturday and may be affected by road closures in Owyhee County, but most of the south and eastern portions of the county are open for hunting. Roads still open Friday that could provide access include Flint Creek/Triangle Road, Mud Flat Road, Poison Creek Road, Shoofly Road, Sinker Creek Road and Collett Road.

On Thursday, firefighters back-burned along U.S. 95 between Marsing and the Oregon border, leading to a closure of that stretch of highway.

Homes near Homedale were evacuated Wednesday, but the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office lifted the evacuation Thursday, an emergency services dispatcher said. By noon, most people who had abandoned their homes were back in them, the dispatcher said.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Check out videos of it here, courtesy of Owyhee County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Vern Tunnell.

The fire is burning in a priority area for sage grouse habitat, much of which has been burned, BLM spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao said. It is a priority fire for the Idaho-Nevada-Utah region, she said.

On Friday, Idaho Power crews were continuing work to restore power — with the help of a mobile generator — to hundreds of people who’d lost it due to the fire, according to a news release from the utility company. Crews are working to rebuild power poles and lines destroyed by the blaze.

While the generator will help bring some residents back online, it’s a temporary solution. Idaho Power asked customers to limit energy use and operate only critical systems or appliances, and avoid using air conditioning.

“As power is restored, we need customers to conserve as much electricity as possible,” Jake Perryman, regional customer relations manager, said in a news release. “This will help to maintain reliability and avoid overloading the generator.”

The fire and resulting loss of power affected Idaho Power customers in the Jordan Valley, Arock, Rome and Marsing areas, according to the news release. Crews spent much of Wednesday staging equipment and coordinating efforts to safely repair and replace miles of power lines and over 100 poles. They monitored the fire Wednesday evening from Marsing and reported no new poles lost overnight.

For up-to-date outage information, call (208) 388-2323 or (800) 488-6151 outside the Treasure Valley. Information also is available online here, or on Idaho Power’s Twitter feed here.