Pioneer Fire now 16,000 acres; new fire restrictions kick in Monday

Crews protected five backcountry yurts and the Beaver Creek Cabin with fire-repellent wrap this week as the Pioneer Fire grew north of Idaho City.
Crews protected five backcountry yurts and the Beaver Creek Cabin with fire-repellent wrap this week as the Pioneer Fire grew north of Idaho City.

Overnight winds pushed the Pioneer Fire eastward in the Boise National Forest, increasing the fire’s size by more than 3,000 acres early Friday.

As the total acreage increased to 16,204 (more than 25 square miles), the estimated level of containment, previously 35 percent, decreased to 27 percent by Friday afternoon.

Crews wrapped five of the six Idaho City backcountry yurts — the sixth, Rocky Ridge, is now considered out of danger — with fire-repellent material and did the same with the Beaver Creek Cabin managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Flames reached the Beaver Creek Cabin and damaged its porch, but the structure survived, Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Blake said.

The flames “went in between two yurts, skirting them north and south,” Blake said. The popular yurts, which are managed by Idaho State Parks and Recreation, are closed until the fire is controlled, and all reservations have been canceled through Aug. 21, a parks department spokeswoman said. Campgrounds, trails and other facilities in and around the fire area also are closed.

Idaho 21 is closed for about 23 miles, from 6 miles north of Idaho City to 2 miles south of the Lowman-Banks Road intersection.

Crews used retardant to try to keep the fire in check while heavy equipment constructed a fire line east of Idaho 21, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Crews had hoped to keep the blaze west of the highway, but the fire jumped across the highway Thursday.

Nearly 1,000 people, including 10 hotshot crews, are working on the fire, along with 39 engines, 10 helicopters, nine water tenders, four bulldozers and five tree-chippers.

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

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.

In preparation for possible thunderstorms over the weekend, a crew installed water-bars on the southeastern perimeter to help prevent mud and water from entering the Elk Creek drainage, the watershed for Idaho City, fire managers said.

Full containment of the Pioneer Fire is estimated for next Friday.

At 12:01 a.m. Monday, area wildland and fire management agencies will implement State 1 Fire restrictions in an effort to decrease the chance of new preventable fires springing up in this hot dry season.

Areas under restriction include private and public lands protected by the Boise National Forest, Boise District BLM and State and Endowment Lands within Ada, Canyon, Gem, Payette, Elmore, Boise, Valley and Washington Counties.

The restrictions prohibit campfires or stove fires except within an agency-designated recreation site or private citizen’s land if inside a fire structure.

Also prohibited are smoking outside a vehicle or enclosure unless in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

Maximum penalties for violating a fire restriction order vary by agency but can run include up to a year in prison and fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for businesses.

Homestead Trail reopens

The Homestead Trail in East Boise reopened Friday. The trail in the Boise River Wildlife Management Area had been closed since the land adjacent to the trail was charred by the Table Rock Fire in late June. The Cobb and West Highland Valley trails also are open in that area, as well as the piece of dirt road that connects the West Highland Valley trail to the Cobb and Lucky Peak trails. Highland Valley Road is closed.

Off-trail use is prohibited in the burn area, which will need years of rehab to restore wildlife habitat.

Several WMA trails farther to the east remain closed because of the Mile Marker 14 Fire. That includes most of Shaw Mountain Road, White Ranch Road, Wilhite Trail and Deer Creek Trail.

That fire burned 4,300 acres of key wildlife habitat.

“This was a tremendous blow to wildlife, particularly wintering mule deer,” said Jerry Deal, regional habitat manager for Idaho Fish and Game. “The area last burned in 1957. It will be decades before we see full recovery.”

Chadd Cripe

Pioneer Fire meetings

Fire managers will provide updates and answer questions at community meetings this weekend, all set at 7 p.m. They will be Saturday at Crouch Community Hall and Sunday at the Ray Robison Community Hall in Idaho City.