Letters from the West

Huge columns rise from Pioneer Fire burning into the backcountry

Distinctive pyrocumulus clouds that rose above the Pioneer Fire Monday were expected again Tuesday evening as the area was under a red flag warning because of expected 15- to 20-mph winds, temperatures in the 90s and a relative humidity in the single digits.

Fortunately, most of the fire is burning into the backcountry in the Deadwood and Clear Creek drainages north of Lowman. The National Weather Service’s red-flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are expected, and fires may experience rapid growth.

Even as the fire grew to more than 140,000 acres, fire managers have trimmed the firefighting force to below 1,200. The key has been reducing the size of hot spots on the western side of the fire near Pioneerville, firefighters said in the daily update. Old fire scars have helped.

The huge column of smoke Monday afternoon came from the Clear Creek area, where the fire moved into the headwaters of Long Creek toward Miller Mountain, far away from homes. The head of the fire closest to critical infrastructure was nine miles north of Kirkham Hot Springs and moving northeast.

All current evacuation levels remain in place, including a Level 2 evacuation designation (voluntary, but recommended) for the summer homes located in the Long Creek area near Bear Valley. A Level 1 (the lowest evacuation level, meaning residents should monitor emergency information sources and be prepared if conditions change) designation remains in effect for Pioneerville and Lowman. Level 1 is also in place for homes located in the South Fork Road area, east of Grimes Creek and along the South Fork Payette River.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker