Update: Idaho 21 reopens as Pioneer Fire burns, evacuation fears ease

Satellite view shows growth of Pioneer Fire

As of Aug. 8, the Pioneer Fire near Lowman, Idaho, had consumed about 64,000 acres. This satellite view shows the growth of the smoke plume since the fire started July 18.
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As of Aug. 8, the Pioneer Fire near Lowman, Idaho, had consumed about 64,000 acres. This satellite view shows the growth of the smoke plume since the fire started July 18.

Tuesday update:

Idaho Highway 21 is set to reopen Tuesday morning at 9, but the Pioneer Fire is still growing, according to Boise National Forest officials.

The wildfire is now burning an estimated 64,351 acres and is at 28 percent containment. More than 1,600 people are fighting the blaze.

Highway 17 is closed indefinitely since the fire is making the road hazardous and slopes in the area unstable, causing rockslides, officials said.

Crews finished a containment line on the northeast side of the fire, from Lowman to Archie Mountain. Now they’re working on another line near Scott Mountain Road to push the fire back from the Highway 17 corridor, according to Boise National Forest officials.

Evacuations were downgraded to Level 1, but motorists are urged to use caution when driving on Highway 21 or anywhere around the area.

Crews are using 11 helicopters, 63 engines, eight bulldozers, 21 water tenders and six masticators to fight the fire.

Wednesday reporting:

The Boise County sheriff’s evacuation notice for Lowman will be reduced Tuesday morning from Level 2 — voluntary but highly recommended — to the lowest category, Level 1, the Boise National Forest reported Monday.

In Level 1, residents are asked to monitor emergency information and be ready to evacuate if the need increases.

“Residents of Lowman must stay alert since the threat of wildfire is still present,” the Forest Service news release stated.

Also, Idaho 21 will reopen at 9 a.m. Tuesday between Idaho City and Lowman, restoring a major route into and out of Lowman, according to the news release. All portions of the Pioneer Fire adjacent to Idaho 21 have been contained, but motorists should expect to see smoke and even small flames in some areas that were blackened by the fire, the Forest Service reports. Downed trees also may be possible, especially when winds are strong.

Highway 17 (Banks-Lowman Road) closed Friday when the fire jumped the highway. It will remain closed until further notice between Lowman and the Danskin Boat Launch, officials said. All Forest service roads within the Boise National Forest area closure also remain closed.

As of Monday evening, the Pioneer Fire had burned 63,362 acres and was 28 percent contained. It is now projected to be fully contained around the end of September.

The Sheriff’s Office announced Level 2 evacuations Friday, and about 35 people reportedly left their homes. The evacuation was reduced to Level 1 on Saturday, but on Sunday, high winds pushed the Pioneer Fire around defense lines and forced firefighters to burn out areas behind homes during the night. That shift prompted authorities to increase the evacuation alert level to 2 again, urging people to leave Lowman voluntarily.

It was the latest setback after swarms of thunderstorm cells blew through Central Idaho beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday, sending clouds of embers ahead of the flames. complicating firefighting efforts and closing off briefly every route into Lowman and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Firefighters on Sunday reopened Idaho 21 between Lowman and Stanley with a pilot car. The new Dry Creek Fire had closed that route Saturday along with Stanley Lake Campground. A new fire west of the Boundary Creek launch on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River threatened — but did not stop — whitewater rafters and kayakers from beginning the popular float trip there.

Firefighters used backburns to help keep the Pioneer Fire from encroaching on Lowman, Idaho on Thursday.

The Dry Creek fire had originally been estimated at 1,200 acres but after an infrared flyover Sunday the estimate dropped to 729 acres, said Julie Thomas, a Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman.

The fire, which started near Dry Creek and forced officials to evacuate campers from Stanley Lake, sent spot fires over Idaho 21 into the Valley Creek drainage where there are ranches and vacation homes. Firefighters were confident they could make progress on the fire, Thomas said.

In Gem County, lightning sparked a fire southwest of Ola, near Cherry Gulch. the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reports. The Cherry Fire grew to 228 acres Monday but was expected to fully contained late that night, a BLM spokesman said Monday. The fire is expected to be controlled around 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker