The Pioneer Fire jumped Idaho 21 early Thursday just north of China Creek, according to a Boise National Forest news release, crossing an important barrier in the struggle to contain it.
The fire was estimated at more than 20 square miles with just 35 percent containment, more than doubling in size within two days. Nearly 1,000 people are working on the scene, with 36 engines, 10 helicopters, nine water tenders, four bulldozers and five tree-chippers.
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The full containment date is now predicted as Aug. 5, the Forest Service reported.
Crews are focusing on preventing the fire from burning farther north or east, building lines and seeking out natural barriers and roads to block it. High temperatures are expected to keep the fire active.
To the north and south of the fire's Idaho 21 crossing point, crews are preparing for possible burnout operations from Banner Ridge south to Mores Creek Summit, fire managers said. A contingency dozer line was completed from Pilot Peak down to Idaho 21.
The Elk Creek watershed, the water source for Idaho City residents, is well-protected, according to the news release. Crews are mopping up in that area.
Firefighters on the Pioneer Fire 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 on Tuesday — and both incidents could have threatened operations, fire managers said in a news release.
“We cannot operate either helicopters or fixed-wing air tankers if there are immediate reports of a drone in the fire’s proximity and we will immediately terminate operations until the area is cleared,” said Bill Hayes, Incident Management Team 3 air operations branch director. “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 are also working to protect wilderness yurts in the area but are prioritizing the safety of personnel and citizens, said Traci Weaver, spokeswoman for Great Basin Team 1.
Idaho 21 is still closed from north of Idaho City and south of Lowman, from mile marker 48 to mile marker 72.5.
Weaver said people traveling 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.
A top wildfire management team — Lund Rocky Basin Team 1, led by incident commander Beth Lund — took over Thursday morning.
Fire near Avimor controlled
The 440-acre Highway 55 Fire was declared under control Thursday evening and all crews were released from the scene north of Eagle, Bureau of Land Management fire information officer Keri Steneck said. The Eagle Fire Department will monitor the burned area for the next few days, she said.
The fire broke out late Tuesday afternoon near Idaho 55 and burned close to the Avimor community before heading northeast, away from homes. The fire, initially reported as several starts in a half-mile area of grass and brush, was human-caused, Steneck said, but investigators have not said more than that.