A 9-year-old Post Falls boy is suspected of starting a fire on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille that has burned almost 270 acres of forest, injured one firefighter, threatened bald eagle and bull trout habitat and may have damaged part of a timber sale worth thousands of dollars.
The boy’s parents could be billed for more than $500,000 to cover the cost of fighting the fire.
The family and the U.S. Forest Service got some good news Wednesday when rain dampened the forest and slowed the spread of the Lakeview fire, which has been burning since Saturday.
“Everything’s getting a pretty good douse of rain out there,” said Greg Hetzler of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. “The fuels that are out there are starting to absorb some moisture.”
“That doesn’t mean that people can go out and be reckless with fire and firecrackers,” he added.
A father and his sons reported themselves to Farragut State Park employees Saturday evening after the fire burned out of control up the mountainside from the shore.
The father told a Kootenai County sheriff’s deputy that he and his sons had parked their boat on the east side of Scenic Bay and had planned on camping there overnight.
One son set off some fireworks and sparked a fire on the hillside. The father tried to scramble up the bank to put it out, but the fire roared up the mountain beyond his reach.
The family declined to comment Wednesday.
The forest fire danger was considered to be extreme over the Labor Day weekend, and two signs along heavily traveled roads in Farragut State Park warned visitors of the incendiary conditions, said Brian Rowder, park manager.
The county turned the case over to the U.S. Forest Service, which either can charge the juvenile with a federal crime or bill the family for the cost of the suppression.
Hetzler said the effort, involving 350 people, five helicopters and 40,000 gallons of retardant, has cost more than $530,000 as of Wednesday morning.
With 80 percent of the blaze surrounded by fire lines, fire crews spent Wednesday mopping up and putting out fires inside the lines.
The fire still isn’t contained, however, because the terrain is too steep and rocky to construct a fire line along the southwest portion, Hetzler said.
“It’s too dangerous,” Hetzler said.
One firefighter working on a steep section of fire line was injured Tuesday when a rolling rock struck him in the chest. He was treated for bruises at Kootenai Medical Center and returned to the fire camp at Farragut State Park on Wednesday.
The fire has threatened a bald eagle nesting area and two creeks considered prime bull trout habitat. The bull trout, a species considered a candidate for the endangered species list, starts spawning this time of the year.
The Forest Service has been trying to keep fire retardant and the blaze from coming near the two streams, Gold Creek and West Gold Creek.
“It’s been a top priority and it hasn’t been a problem at all,” Hetzler said. The fire retardant is a mixture of fertilizer, water and pink dye that doesn’t burn and slows the advance of a wildfire.
Too much of it could be toxic to fish, however.
The fire also came close to the town of Lakeview and the 900,000-board-feet Gold Yeller timber sale.
Lakeview was protected by a fire line, but it was unclear Wednesday whether the timber sale was affected.
“The fire slopped over the ridge and was burning in and around some of the units that had timber marked for sale,” said Anthony Matthews of the Sandpoint Ranger District.
The sale was designed to remove diseased and dying trees, and leave Ponderosa pine trees that can better withstand wildfire, he said.
Because of the cooler and damper conditions, the Forest Service is beginning the process of sending crews and support personnel to the next fire or home, and turning operations over to the Sandpoint Ranger District.
A public meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at the Bitter End Marina in Bayview to discuss the details of the transition.
A second meeting for Lakeview residents is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the Bitterroot Lodge.
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