Crews were confident about their progress on Mile Marker 14 fire Friday, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Hot weather promised a challenging day for firefighters working on the Mile Marker 14 wildfire, but firefighters still increased containment to 80 percent by late afternoon, BLM tweeted at 5:15 p.m.
“The fire behavior will increase this afternoon (because it’s) going to be hot, dry and breezy,” Kori Anderson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service said earlier in the day. “Not ideal to fight.”
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The high temperature Thursday hit 100 degrees, the weather service reports.
Fire officials were finally able to map the blaze in detail and revised its size to 4,306 acres, a little more than 100 acres less than reported Wednesday.
Work overnight put the fire at 60 percent contained, and progress continued through the day.
Hotshot teams Thursday planned to work on fire lines along the northern side, where the fire is still eating up small patches of grass, sage and timber. The goal is to keep the fire from backing into the Deer Creek Drainage, the Bureau of Land Management says.
Crews also mopped up and patroled the quieter eastern and southern edges of the fire.
The BLM and Idaho Fish and Game issued notices Thursday about areas that are closed to the public while crews fight fire. Parts of Lucky Peak shut down to the public while air support uses the reservoir to fight the fire.
Closures include Forest Service land south of Daggett Creek to Rocky Canyon Road, and east of Highway 21 to Forest Service Road 275.
Late Thursday afternoon Idaho Fish and Game announced closure of the wildlife management area that includes Highland Valley Road and the burned area on both sides of Idaho 21. That closure is in effect until further notice, the agency said.
The extent of damage to the area, which is critical winter range for big game and other wildlife, has not yet been determined, Idaho Fish and Game reports. Planning for rehabilitation projects is already underway, and volunteers are invited to sign up on the agency’s website.
Boise County residents now have a number to call for updates about the fire, as well as the Pioneer Fire 8 miles north of Idaho City. The Boise County Emergency Operations Center can be reached at 208-258-6580.
Shannon Whitehead and her husband, Jerry, have seen some significant wildfires during three decades of living along Idaho 21 north of Hilltop Station.
But none of the previous fires was anything like what happened Tuesday, when flames roared down both sides of the highway toward their house.
“Other times, we could see the flames but we’ve never been encircled,” Whitehead said. “And I’ve never had to evacuate.”
Whitehead, who was home alone at the time, left at the urging of Ada County sheriff’s deputies who showed up at her door. The deputies took her family’s two horses to a safer place.
“They were so nice,” she said Wednesday afternoon while looking out her windows at blackened hills. Still traumatized by the fire, her horses were neighing, and hordes of grasshoppers clung to the sides of her home.
The fire had ripped through about 4,500 acres by Wednesday night. No one was killed or injured, and only a handful of small outbuildings were lost. Defensible spaces around the Whiteheads’ house spared it from the Mile Marker 14 Fire.
The fire roared through thick grass and sagebrush Tuesday, but by Wednesday afternoon, it had slowed to a crawl, and there was comparatively little smoke.
The fire was 50 percent contained Wednesday night, and flames were about 3 to 4 miles from the nearest homes, Bureau of Land Management spokesman Brandon Hampton said. The leading edge of the fire — which has passed Adalpe Summit — is about 16 miles north of Boise.
Idaho 21 is open in both directions, but motorists should be cautious of fire vehicles and personnel in the area. Rocky Canyon Road and all the trails east of the road have been closed by Ada and Boise counties.
The number of personnel on the fire was boosted from 150 to nearly 200. Crews planned to build a fire line north from Adalpe Summit to the High Bridge near Lucky Peak Reservoir.
“We want to get in there and get as much line constructed as we can,” Hampton said. “We want to take advantage of the cool temperatures. (Thursday) they’re forecasting near triple-digit heat.”
The charred hills along Idaho 21 start about 2.5 miles north of Lucky Peak Dam. The fire burned almost to the U.S. Forest Service’s Lucky Peak Nursery on the east side of the highway and well beyond High Bridge on the west side.
Fire officials, passing motorists and others parked in pullouts along Lucky Peak Reservoir on Wednesday to watch helicopters pull buckets of water to pour on the smoldering black hillsides. The buckets carry 150 to 300 gallons.
“A hundred gallons of water on the fire line makes a huge difference, even though it looks like a minimal amount of water,” Hampton said.
There were seven 20-person Hotshot crews and one 20-person hand crew that hiked to the top of Aldape Summit to fight the fire. These firefighters typically carry 40 to 80 pounds of gear, Hampton said.
“They are continually eating and drinking,” he said. “They’re always consuming water. We can always fly water and food up to them. It’s nasty, hard work.”
Sydney Smith, who works at the Hilltop Station grocery store, said patrons have been buying food and drinks for firefighters.
“It’s nice to see, and it makes you feel good,” she said.
The owner and employees of Hilltop Station said they feel lucky. Owner Tate McCullough was working at the store when the fire broke out around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said it started about 300 yards south of the Hilltop.
“As far as I can tell, it started on the east side of the road, and the wind picked up and it jumped,” he said. “That was freaky to watch.”
BLM officials have said the fire was human-caused but haven’t said more than that.
McCullough, who bought the Hilltop property in 2012, said he and one of his employees were urged to move to safety, so they locked the building and left. He was worried that the building would be gone when he returned.
But one of his employees, John Crain, had recently worked to clear dead brush and vegetation behind the building.
“We weren’t thinking about fires. We thought we’d plant some grass back there, and it will be nice,” McCullough said. “Johnny had cleaned to the fence line, and the fire followed the fence line.”
The fire burned at least three utility poles Tuesday night, knocking out power to about 2,500 residences and businesses from East Boise to Idaho City. Power was restored by early Wednesday afternoon, according to Idaho Power.
Chadd Cripe and Kristin Rodine contributed.
Details about the Mile Marker 14 Fire are being posted on the federal government’s InciWeb fire information website. Fire officials planned to do a flyover Wednesday night to create an accurate map of the fire.
Just in case
Boise County issued a warning Wednesday to residents of the Robie Creek area to be ready in case evacuations are ordered. If that happens, county officials said, the Red Cross will 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.
Boise County plans to establish an information center “eventually” at the mailboxes on Robie Creek Road, at milepost 2.2, and will post updates on its website.
Pioneer Fire grows to 511 acres
More than 200 firefighters are battling the blaze near Idaho City, and more resources are en route, the Boise National Forest announced Wednesday.
The fire started Monday in steep terrain 8 miles northeast of Idaho City; its cause has not been determined. The U.S. Forest Service issued an area closure beginning at the junction of Bear Run Road and Main Street in Idaho City. Bear Run Road to Meadow Drive and the Duquette Pines Subdivision road are not included in the closure.
No structures are reportedly in danger.
Crews are battling a blaze blocking a route to Yellowstone National Park and the region of Jackson Hole as summertime visitors flock there.
The wildfire has burned about 12 square miles in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and closed a 40-mile section of U.S. 191/189, a highway heavily used by travelers heading across Interstate 80 to the park and Jackson Hole.
Alternate routes are available, including I-25 through Casper. The fire is burning about 5 miles north of the community of Bondurant.