Update: Pioneer Fire voluntary evacuation orders for Lowman communities

Firefighters work to clear Idaho 17

The U.S. Forest service posted this video of crews clearing a large tree that had fallen across Idaho 17. According to the Facebook post, the tree fell without warning.
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The U.S. Forest service posted this video of crews clearing a large tree that had fallen across Idaho 17. According to the Facebook post, the tree fell without warning.

Up to 20 families in the Lowman area were asked to leave their homes voluntarily Tuesday because of the monstrous Pioneer Fire.

The Boise County Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 2 alert for Bear Valley and Lowman Home roads, Hall and North Shore drives, along with Milepost 31 on the Banks-Lowman Road leading to the junction with Idaho 21. That order is still in effect as of Wednesday morning.

The residents are not required to go, but the Sheriff’s Office issued the alert because firefighting efforts in the area could lead to heavy smoke and extreme fire behavior, officials said.

The fire plowing through the Boise National Forest grew to 76,980 acres by Tuesday — more than 120 square miles — but all of that growth was called part of successful containment efforts, said fire information officer Jerry Rohnert.

Crews were able to strengthen their burnout operations, increasing the fire’s containment to 50 percent, he said.

Smoke from the fire made its way into the Treasure Valley but did not nudge air quality levels out of the yellow, or moderate, category, said Dave Luft of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

“One thing about smoke is that it has good warning properties,” Luft said Tuesday afternoon, noting that the particulates in the air are readily visible.

Shifts in weather conditions were expected to clear Valley air by Wednesday, he said, but wind patterns are often difficult to predict.

In Boise County no structures are currently threatened by the Pioneer Fire, but officials are taking extra precautions since temperatures are high, Rohnert said.

Many residents went without power for a few hours Tuesday morning in a planned outage while Idaho Power replaced 12 utility poles damaged by July’s Mile Marker 14 Fire, which burned on both sides of Idaho 21 east of Boise. Crews also added a new power pole just before the High Bridge, said Stephanie McCurdy of Idaho Power.

On Monday, electricity to Lowman was interrupted by fire activity and heavy smoke near the river corridor, fire managers reported via Inciweb.

Stage 1 fire restrictions have been in effect since Aug. 1 on private and public land across Ada, Canyon, Gem, Payette, Elmore, Boise, Valley and Washington counties, prohibiting campfires outside of an “agency-designated campground in an agency-provided fire structure,” according to a Boise National Forest news release. But fire patrol units have reported seeing recreationists lighting fires anyway.

“Our goal is to reduce the potential of a new fire start, especially while dealing with the large Pioneer Fire,” Boise National Forest fire manager Bob Shindelar said in a statement. “New fires increase both firefighter risk and fire suppression costs, not to mention the social impacts of smoke.”

Idaho 21 remains open through Boise County, but motorists are asked to use extreme caution when using the road. Rohnert said rockslides could cause temporary closures. Drivers are urged to take it slow, use their lights and keep a sharp eye on the road.

Idaho 17, the Banks-Lowman Road, is still closed from Lowman to the Danskin boat ramp.

A Level 1 evacuation order is still in effect for the Lowman and Grimes Creek pass area. That order, the lowest of three, means residents are asked to be prepared to leave, Rohnert said.

Nearly 1,800 people are still working on the Pioneer Fire, according to fire managers via Inciweb.

Also in the Boise National Forest, almost 130 people are working on the Rough Fire, sparked by lightning last weekend about 14 miles northeast of Lowman. That fire had its estimated acreage go down to 2,275 on Tuesday after more mapping, and also saw its containment improve to 20 percent.

Kristin Rodine contributed to this story.

California fires

A new wildfire spread Tuesday at a staggering pace in every direction through drought-parched canyons east of Los Angeles, growing to 14 square miles in a matter of hours.

The blaze in Cajon Pass caused serious problems for a swath of mountain communities. About 82,500 people from some 34,500 houses were under mandatory evacuation orders, San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said. Some structures had already burned.

The flames also forced the shutdown of a section of Interstate 15, the main highway between Southern California and Las Vegas.

The Blue Cut Fire was first reported just after 10:30 a.m. near I-15 and was nearly 3 square miles within two hours. Houses and buildings could be seen burning along the 138 Freeway.

Six county firefighters became entrapped by walls of flame while defending homes and clearing out residents in Swarthout Canyon on Tuesday afternoon, officials said. The firefighters were able to take shelter in a nearby structure, but two had to be treated for minor injuries.

Alleged arsonist

Investigators in Northern California said Tuesday that they had been building a case against 40-year-old construction worker Damin Anthony Pashilk for more than a year but did not have enough evidence to make an arrest until the weekend blaze that ripped through Lower Lake. He has been implicated in 16 smaller fires dating back to last summer.

Nearly a decade ago, Pashilk was an inmate firefighter while serving time on drug possession and firearms charges. Neither the California Department of Forestry, which led the investigation that resulted in Pashilk’s arrest Monday, nor the Lake County district attorney would discuss what led authorities to him.

The weekend fire destroyed 175 homes, Main Street businesses and other structures in the working-class town of Lower Lake.