Idaho 21 wildfire: Robie residents warned to be ready to leave

The Mile Marker 14 Fire scorches 2,000 acres near Idaho 21 in Boise

Three structures have been destroyed and due to shifting winds, 10 structures are threatened Tuesday evening by the human-caused fire. The fire is burning on both sides of the Idaho 21 highway, which closed east and west of Lucky Peak Reservoir. A
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Three structures have been destroyed and due to shifting winds, 10 structures are threatened Tuesday evening by the human-caused fire. The fire is burning on both sides of the Idaho 21 highway, which closed east and west of Lucky Peak Reservoir. A

Wednesday update: Boise County issued a warning to residents of the Robie Creek area to be ready in case evacuations are ordered. If that happens, county officials said the Red Cross would establish an emergency shelter at Basin Elementary School in Idaho City.

Pets and livestock could be taken to the Idaho City rodeo grounds, county officials said. They asked for owners to bring feed and a container for water.

No road closures or evacuations had been ordered by 3 p.m.

“It was a preventive measure in case the fire was to start to show a little more behavior than we’re seeing now. We wanted to have a Plan B in case it was necessary,” said Brandon Hampton, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Boise County plans to establish an information center “eventually” at the mail boxes on Robie Creek Road, at milepost 2.2.

Boise County said it would post updates on its website.

The fire has reached 50 percent containment as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Details about it are now being posted on the federal government’s InciWeb fire information website.

“The firefighters have made great progress on the fire. There’s been very little movement on it. We’ve got numerous hotshot crews coming in from the top and from the bottom. Everything is looking good,” Hampton said.

No structures were threatened but authorities warned that the 4,446-acre fire could spread toward Rocky Canyon Road if the wind changes.

No time estimate is yet available for full containment.

About 2,500 Idaho Power customers from Warm Springs up to Idaho City lost power overnight due to the fire, including in the neighborhoods of Robie Creek, Wilderness Ranch, Placerville and Centerville, according to Idaho Power.

According to the Department of the Interior, more than 29,000 wildfires have burned over 2.6 million acres in 2016, increasing concerns that we could see yet another busy, dangerous and costly fire season.

Crews are currently on scene working to restore power, and crews estimate power will be back on by 1 p.m., according to Idaho Power.

Three power line poles were burned in the fire and are being replaced. It took crews longer than anticipated to fix the issue because fire was making it unsafe to make repairs, said Idaho Power spokeswoman Lynette Standley.

Rocky Canyon Road and all the trails east of the road were closed off by Ada and Boise counties. Highway 21 is the route officials want people to take, according to a BLM tweet.

Related: We might not like it but we are all learning to live with wildfire.

Five 20-person handcrews worked the fire through the night. By Wednesday morning, 175 personnel were working on the fire. An additional 80 people are on the way to help, all members of four different hotshot crews, said fire information officer Brandon Hampton.

Bright and early Wednesday, crews focused on the Aldape Summit area, trying to keep the flames from getting into forests and hard-to-reach locations.

“It’s steep terrain and it’s tough to get into,” Hampton said.

The Red Cross announced they were on standby to open shelters to anyone who chose to evacuate, though evacuations haven’t yet been orderd.

“We are mobilizing our trained volunteers in the area and prepositioning to respond to this emergency,” said Nicole Sirak-Irwin, CEO of the American Red Cross of Idaho and Montana in a statement.

Earlier reporting continues below:

Mary Lewerenz was having lunch with friends in Idaho City on Tuesday afternoon when she got a call about a fire near her house, south of Hilltop Station on Idaho 21.

As she rushed home, she was shocked to see the giant “poof” of smoke billowing over her property.

“When I got over the hill, I just saw everything was engulfed, and there were two fire trucks here at that time,” she recalled while standing in her driveway after the fire had passed.

The fast-moving fire destroyed a tack room (small barn), chicken coop and a wood shed. Her home was spared, and her animals survived — though one cat was missing.

A fast-burning fire erupted near Hilltop Station on Tuesday, July 19.

“They did a great job of having defensible space, and that’s what saved their home,” said Bureau of Land Management fire information officer Brandon Hampton.

Hampton said trees around Lewerenz’s house were trimmed and nearby vegetation removed. The green grass around the house was well-irrigated.

Just before 6 p.m., the BLM reported that 10 other structures, a combination of homes and outbuildings, were threatened in the Robie Creek area. Residents of Harris Ranch reported seeing flames later Tuesday evening.

By 8 p.m., temperatures had dropped, humidity had increased and winds had died down, allowing firefighters to make good progress on line construction. The threat to structures has been greatly reduced, Hampton said.

At 9 p.m., BLM fire information officer Keri Steneck said the situation was “looking really good,” although no containment percentage was available.

“We’ve stopped the forward progress,” Steneck said.

No evacuations were ordered or planned. As many as 150 local, state and federal firefighters, including eight smoke jumpers, battled the blaze Tuesday.

About a dozen planes and helicopters were in the air dropping retardant and water from Lucky Peak Reservoir.

The fast-burning fire, which started south of Hilltop Station, reached more than 2,000 acres and quickly flanked the highway Tuesday.

The fire burned around Hilltop Station, Hampton said, but firefighters dug a dozer line to protect the restaurant and convenience store.

A wildfire a few years ago on the east side of the highway significantly reduced the vegetation. The thick grass and sage on the west side posed a challenge to firefighters.

“It reached a little bit of timber near Aldape Summit, but the firefighters did a great job of minimizing the impact,” Hampton said.

This time-lapse provided by the National Weather Service shows the smoke plume of the wildfire just east of Boise.

The BLM asked Boise County residents to stay off of Rocky Canyon Road because the fire has the potential to move that direction.

That area is becoming a point of concern for crews, Hampton said.

“It's relatively inaccessible,” Hampton said. “And there’s lots of timber.”

With hot air predicted, with a high temperature of 92 predicted by the National Weather Service, Wednesday will be a test for firefighters, Hampton said.

Winds on the ridgeline near the fire pushed smoke to the east-northeast, toward Idaho City, according to the National Weather Service. Later, the winds shifted to the north and northwest, less than a mile from homes in Robie Creek, Steneck said.

Will Whelan of The Nature Conservancy of Idaho talks about how thinning and forest restoration can blunt impacts of mega fires.

Patchy smoke was expected in Boise on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

“Once the sun sets, the smoke will settle and it should move toward Boise overnight,” said Korri Anderson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “I expect the smoke to drain down into the Valley overnight.”

The fire was first reported around 1:35 p.m. near mile marker 14 of the highway, Hampton said, and that location gave the fire its name. The BLM showed up about 10 minutes later.

Investigators have determined the fire started along Idaho 21, and it was human-caused.

“We’ve got investigators trying to determine which side of the road it started on,” Hampton said.

He characterized the area as grassy sage. It’s prime winter habitat for deer, he said.

Reporters about a mile south of Hilltop Station were just 150-200 yards from the flames Tuesday afternoon. A photo of the nearby smoke was posted to Hillstop Station’s Facebook page shortly before 2 p.m.

Idaho 21 remains closed in both directions from Lucky Peak Dam Road to Robie Creek Road, and Hampton urged residents to avoid the area. The Idaho Transportation Department posted a notice of the road closure at 1:38 p.m.

Evacuations haven’t been issued at this point, but that could change, Hampton said.

Dozens of people pulled over on Idaho 21 below the closure area to watch the fire and take photos.

Just three weeks ago, flames burned 2,500 acres around Table Rock, destroying one home. That fire was caused by fireworks, authorities said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service was also fighting two fires near Idaho City. As of Tuesday, the largest measured about 200 acres.

The Statesman’s John Sowell and Erin Fenner contributed.

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