Fires

Idaho wildfires reach nearly 400,000 acres Tuesday

UPDATE: This fire report covers Aug. 17 and 18, 2015. For the latest on fires in Idaho, visit IdahoStatesman.com/fireseason.

Firefighters are making progress on fires in the Boise National Forest, thanks in part to winds Monday that were not as strong as expected.

Winds picked up in the afternoon Monday, which fueled the Cougar Fire, now at 590 acres near Warm Lake and Cascade. But 180 firefighters working on the Cougar Fire were able to get it 25 percent contained by Tuesday morning.

Crews of about 300 firefighters also made progress Monday on the 617-acre West Scriver Fire, located about 10 miles north of Crouch. The fire was 72 percent contained by Tuesday morning. Residents in the area can attend a community meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the North Shore Lodge at Warm Lake to ask questions to fire officials.

Still, seven active fires had burned more than 5,000 acres each by Tuesday afternoon.

LAWN MOWER FIRE REACHES 1,350 ACRES

A resident near Weiser who on Monday night was mowing tall grass to protect a home from wildfire ended up sparking a blaze that burned about 1,350 acres, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The lawn mower blade hit a rock or piece of concrete, causing a spark that ignited the grass. The homeowner tried to extinguish the fire, but it spread quickly.

“They were mowing to create a fire break,” said BLM fire spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao.

Bilbao said investigators will determine if the homeowner did anything negligent. If so, the person could be found to be responsible for some of the costs of fire suppression.

So far this year, the Boise BLM has recovered more than $194,000 from people who have caused fires. Fire collections ranged from $500 to $80,000.

“We are very proactive in investigating and pursuing cost collection from individuals that negligently cause fires on BLM land or allow a fire to escape their private property and burn onto public land,” Boise BLM Fire Management Officer Andy Delmas said in a news release.

The new wildfire was reported burning off of Mann Creek Road, about 7 miles northeast of Weiser, at about 6:15 p.m. Monday. Firefighters were able to protect structures in the area.

Crews did structure protection overnight and bedded down around 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, BLM Fire spokeswoman Jacqueline Link said.

The Weiser Fire Department and Forest Service’s combined response Monday night included five engines, three dozers and two brush trucks, 11 tankers, a helicopter, a lead plane and an air attack plane to manage aircraft. Additional crews ordered Tuesday included: three engines and a hand crew that have been released from the Soda Fire.

GOOD PROGRESS ON SODA FIRE

A change in weather helped turn the tide in the favor of crews battling the Soda Fire near Silver City in Owyhee County.

The winds that fed the fire’s growth to more than 280,000 acres subsided, allowing crews to increase containment from 25 percent Sunday to 90 percent by Monday night, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Sierra Hellstrom said.

“We really lucked out with the weather over the last couple of days,” she said.

Idaho Power linemen worked throughout the day to replace power poles burned in the fire and to restore electricity.

Recreational use of roads leading into Silver City is prohibited. The Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office issued road closure orders for all use except for local residents. The closure primarily affects roads in the Silver City, Trout Creek and Cow Creek area. Upper Reynolds Creek Road is closed, as is the Jump Creek recreational site and trailheads from Silver City to Jump Creek.

Gov. Butch Otter issued a disaster declaration Saturday for Owyhee County so that communities affected by the fire can get more assistance. The state also made tools available to the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office to record property, livestock and other losses. See the box titled “Do you or your animals need help” for more information on those tools.

Overnight winds fueled the blaze last Friday that had sparked Aug. 10 and drove it southeast, threatening residences in the areas of Bailey Road, Reynolds Road, China Ditch Road and Wilson Creek. The Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office asked residents to prepare for evacuation, but no mandatory evacuations were put into effect, officials said.

About 811 firefighters battled the blaze with six helicopters, 36 engines, 13 water tenders and nine bulldozers. No homes have been damaged by the fire as of Sunday, officials reported.

The cause of the blaze is still undetermined.

The Clearwater Complex fires

More than 58,000 acres of timber, brush, slash and grass burned since Thursday in a series of fires near Kamiah in North Idaho. Crews focused on protecting structures and building fire lines. The complex was 25 percent contained as of Tuesday morning.

The fires have destroyed 42 homes and at least 79 outbuildings near Kamiah, about 60 miles east of Lewiston. The fires are burning to the edge of the Clearwater River.

More than 800 firefighters worked Tuesday with 47 fire engines and four helicopters to fight the blazes and protect homes. Residents along an 11-mile section of U.S. Highway 12 were told to be ready to flee.

In Idaho County, a 70-year-old woman was killed Friday when she fell while preparing to flee from a wildfire expanding quickly between Lewiston and Kamiah, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday. Cheryl Lee Wissler, of Adams Grade, died from a head injury, authorities said.

The Tepee Springs Fire

The lightning-caused fire is burning intensely across about 5,971 acres in the Payette National Forest, 20 miles south of Riggins. The Sheriff’s Department asked residents living on Smokey Boulder-Elk Lake Road on both the east and west sides of Highway 95 to prepare to evacuate.

The fire was zero percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Six crews were working with four helicopters, 14 engines and two dozers Tuesday.

The fire increased in size Sunday with rising temperatures and winds. Steep terrain and fuel loads also allowed the fire to spread.

The fire is expected to continue to burn south down Hazard Creek and west toward Highway 95. The spread of fire north and east will continue but will moderate once the fire burns into numerous fire scars in the area.

A crew is working in the Elk Lake subdivision to install a sprinkler system to protect homes.

The Payette National Forest is closed near the fire. Public access is prohibited past the cattle guard 1 mile north of Goose Lake on Goose Lake Road. Hard/Hazard Creek Road (Forest Service Road 287) is closed to prevent access to the fire area from the west.

Officials are urging the public to drive slowly along Highway 95 from Tamarack Mill to Riggins due to smoke and fire activity.

There will be town meetings 6 p.m. Wednesday at New Meadows High School and 6 p.m. Thursday at Riggins Community Center.

The Fisher Fire

About 20,000 acres of timber, grass and agricultural lands have burned 7 miles north of Craigmont in the Big Canyon area.

More than 130 firefighters, aided by helicopter bucket support, held containment lines along the northeastern corner of the fire, just north of the confluence of Six Mile and Big canyons in lands managed by the Idaho Department of Lands. The fire was 50 percent contained Tuesday.

Crews worked to construct fire lines across the upper end of Big Canyon, to stop the fire’s progression south. Dense fuels in that area continue to burn intensely, challenging that effort.

On Monday, crews focused on stopping further spread along the fire’s southwestern boundary in upper Big Canyon and along the fire’s northwestern boundary in Six Mile Canyon.

The Parker Ridge Fire

About 6,147 acres of timber and understory have burned in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest northwest of Bonners Ferry. The lightning-caused fire is zero percent contained and has been burning since July 29, 7 miles south of Porthill.

Copeland Road remains closed to public access and the Westside evacuation area is closed to all but firefighters and emergency traffic. The Parker Ridge, Fisher Peak and Long Canyon trails have been closed, with hikers urged to go further south.

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