Rafters keep coming down Salmon River as Tepee Springs Fire stays hot

Ash fell on Salmon River rafters who paddled through fires in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness only to find firefighters waiting for them Tuesday at the boat ramp at the end of Salmon River Road.

Fire crews and Idaho County Sheriff’s Office personnel are escorting rafters to Riggins because of hazardous conditions, including burning logs falling from the steep slopes above the narrow 26-mile road that follows the river.

The Tepee Springs Fire, which ballooned over the weekend and was gauged at more than 91,000 acres Tuesday, had stranded rafters and boaters upriver as conditions pushed the fire over the Salmon, forcing authorities to close the only two roads accessing the river east of Riggins. Salmon River Road reopened Monday, with pilot cars guiding rafters out. French Creek Road remains closed.

Low humidity and rising afternoon temperatures on Tuesday increased activity on the fire, which extends from 3 miles east of Riggins along the Salmon River to a mile east of French Creek.

Rafters who arrived Tuesday had put in at Corn Creek on Aug. 27, the day before the Forest Service canceled raft trips because of fires.

But for the rafters, the fires, including one upriver near Campbell’s Ferry, did not detract from their float.

“Concerns about the fire from our point of view were largely overblown,” said Phil Lansing, an economist and former outfitter from Boise. “It was fabulous.”

Ellen and Cameron Smart, two of their sons and a friend came back to the river she guided trips on 17 years ago. They said they were well informed about the Tepee fire as they floated closer to the glow they could see downriver at night.

“We talked to the people in jet boats about what was going on,” she said.

The smoke, which has been trapped in the canyon by the weather, was the main issue.

“You couldn’t see the stars until last night,” Smart said.

Emergency crews are providing food, water and support at the boat ramp for rafters if the fires keep them from getting out.

Firefighters on Tuesday continued mopping up hot spots and providing structure protection for the ranches and cabins along the river and up French Creek. Helicopters have been pulling water from the river to fight the fire.

The head of the fire north of the Salmon River ran up Allison Creek and has reached Little Slate Creek about 4 miles west of the historic mining town of Florence. On the flank near Riggins, the head of the fire is moving away from the tourism terminus on U.S. 95.

With Labor Day approaching, the popular 18-mile stretch of the Salmon River east of Riggins remains closed to all recreational activities. Also closed due to fire danger are most public lands on the east side of U.S. 95, north of the Salmon.