UPDATE: Pioneer Fire grows to 16,000 acres

Smoke from the Pioneer Fire is impacting many spots in southern Idaho.
Smoke from the Pioneer Fire is impacting many spots in southern Idaho.

Friday afternoon update:

Overnight winds pushed the Pioneer Fire eastward eastward, increasing the fire by more than 3,000 acres to a total of 16,204 acres. Firefighter crews used retardant to try to keep the fire in check while heavy equipment to build a fire line east of Highway 21, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire is 27 percent contained.

To the north, where fire is burning in the Coulter Creek Summit area and in the headwaters of Rock Creek, firefighters constructed a fire line down a ridge to prevent it from moving further into the creek basin. On the southern flank, crews burned east from bulldozed fire lines in the Pilot Peak area to secure the fire down to Highway 21.

Conditions are expected to remain dry, producing similar fire behavior.

Fire managers will provide updates and answer questions at three community meetings on the weekend at 7 p.m. The first will be Friday at the Emergency Services Building, seven miles east of Lowman. The second will be Saturday at Crouch Community Hall, and the third will be Sunday at the Ray Robison Community Hall in Idaho City.

Almost 1,000 people are working on the Pioneer Fire, with 36 engines, 10 helicopters, nine water tenders, four bulldozers and five tree-chippers. Crews are focusing on preventing the fire from burning farther north or east, building lines and seek

Thursday afternoon update:

The Pioneer Fire jumped Idaho State Highway 21 Thursday just north of China Creek, according to a Boise National Forest press release.

The fire is holding around 12,869 acres with an estimate 35 percent containment. Nearly 1,000 personnel are working on the scene with 36 engines, 10 helicopters, nine water tenders, four bulldozers and five masticators.

Crews are now working to prevent the fire from burning farther north or east, building lines and seeking out natural barriers and roads to block the fire.

The Elk Creek watershed, the water source for Idaho City residents, is well-protected, according to the release. Crews are mopping up in the area.

High temperatues are expected to keep the fire active, according to the release.

Thursday morning update:

About 980 personnel are battling the Pioneer Fire, which grew to 12,986 acres by Thursday morning, according to Traci Weaver, spokeswoman for Great Basin Team 1.

Firefighters on scene are the latest to warn of the ramifications of drone activity around an active wildfire. Two drones were sighted near the fire (one on July 22, and the other was spotted Tuesday) and both incidents could have threatened fire operations, according to a news release this morning from the Boise National Forest.

“We cannot operate either helicopters or fixed-wing air tankers if there are immediate reports of a drone in the fires proximity and we will immediately terminate operations until the area is cleared,” said Bill Hayes, Incident Management Team 3 air operations branch director, in a statement. “Pilots may not see a drone and if they strike one it could down an aircraft or significantly damage one.”

Drone operators could be fined between $1,000 and $25,000 if their drone endangers a manned aircraft, according to the release.

Crews have been working to increase containment on the fire and keep it from burning further east. The fire has occasionally jumped east across Idaho Highway 21, so firefighters are on the road, battling to keep those flares from burning more severely.

Crews are also working to protect yurts in the Whoop-Um-Up campground, but crews are prioritizing the safety of personnel and citizens, Weaver said.

“Our number one priority is life safety,” she said.

Weaver added that people traveling in or near the area should take extra precautions. The smoke is thick along Idaho 21, so she urged motorists to slow down and use their headlights.

Idaho 21 is still closed from mile marker 48 to mile marker 72.5, Weaver said.

Previous reporting follows:

The Pioneer Fire, burning about 8 miles north of Idaho City, grew significantly since Tuesday, from nearly 5,000 acres to more than 10,000 acres, according to Susan Blake of the Boise National Forest.

Related: Fire activity dwindles in Foothills near Avimor.

A top wildfire management team — Lund Rocky Basin Team 1, led by incident commander Beth Lund — is slated to take over at 6 a.m. Thursday. The current fire fighting team will close out Friday.

“The scale of it has grown [to the point] that they need the top team to deal with the incident,” Blake said.

The team has more personnel and a higher level of experience to deal with the blaze.

Air and land crews were working to extinguish spots of fire on the east side of the Highway 21 line, she said. The highway is seen as an important barrier for the fire.

The fire growth was due to windy conditions and high temperatures. To keep the blaze at bay, crews are clearing brush and trees along Idaho 21 in the area around mile marker 48 to mile marker 72.5. That stretch of Idaho 21 is closed to motorists. About 900 personnel were working on the fire as of Wednesday, and a night shift was added to keep on the blaze.

Ten helicopters were working on the fire and single-engine air tankers were dropping the retardant, according to a news release.

One of the yurts on the Whoop-Um-Up campground is “pretty close to the fire,” said Susan Blake with the Boise National Forest on Tuesday.

Ten structures reportedly were threatened according to a Tuesday morning release, but no structures had been lost as of Wednesday night, according to Blake. Crews wrapped yurts and installed sprinklers to protect them.

The area is closed to cars and campers, but it isn’t keeping people out, Blake said.

“There’s a lot of incursions into the closed areas by ATVs and OHV (off-highway vehicle) enclosed vehicles,” she said, urging people to stay out of the fire closure area for their own safety.

One of the priorities for crews is to keep the fire away from the Elk Creek Watershed since it is the primary water source for Idaho City, according to the release.

Boise National Forest officials said full containment on the fire, which began July 18, isn’t expected until Oct. 5.