September 5, 2005 in Idaho

Wildfire forces residents from homes near Stanley

John Miller Associated Press
 

BOISE – A fire just south of Stanley in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area spread to more than 4,000 acres Sunday, prompting officials to ask residents of a nearby development to evacuate their homes as a precautionary measure.

The Valley Road fire was burning about 15 miles southeast of Stanley, in the rugged White Cloud Mountains.

The fire spread rapidly Sunday, nearly doubling in size between 9:30 a.m. and midafternoon, according to U.S. Forest Service estimates. It was fueled by temperatures that reached into the mid-70s and humidity that slunk down to 17 percent. A mountain pine beetle infestation has also killed many of the region’s lodgepole pine trees, leaving plenty of fuel.

“They’re expecting a red flag day, which means high winds and low relative humidity,” said Pat Rhoads, a spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest in Stanley.

The fire burned near the Fisher Creek development, including a five-room lodge, located near the fire just east of State Highway 75 about one hour north of Sun Valley.

It was unclear Sunday how many homes were threatened, though the Forest Service said in a statement that there were “significant numbers of structures in the vicinity, both on private land and on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.” Residents had not been allowed to return to their homes by Sunday evening.

A Type 1 incident management team – deployed to combat the most-dangerous blazes – was assuming control of firefighting operations, Rhoads said.

Reinforcements were arriving Sunday to bolster the 50 personnel who fought the blaze overnight, along with two helicopters, two single-engine air tankers, three large air tankers and at least 12 engines. Officials didn’t immediately say how many firefighters are expected.

The fire started late Saturday afternoon, and is apparently human-caused.

The Gregory fire, another human-caused fire near Idaho City in Boise County, burned 600 acres Sunday after quadrupling in size overnight.

Fire officials closed the northbound lane of State Highway 21 to all but local traffic, such as residents of the Wilderness Ranch subdivision at Mile Marker 21.5, and the southbound lane of the highway was closed starting in Idaho City. The closure came after the fire changed direction overnight and was pushing to the southwest toward this route that connects the Boise Valley with the central Idaho mountains.

Southbound traffic for vacationers returning from Labor Day weekend getaways was diverted at Lowman, with Boise-bound drivers forced to detour to Banks on State Highway 55.

The Gregory fire burned to within a half-mile of the nearest structure after igniting at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Still, no houses were threatened or being evacuated as of Sunday evening, said Cyd Weiland, a spokeswoman for the fire information center, adding that the Greyback Gulch campground has been closed.

There were about 200 personnel on the fire.

“We’re aggressively fighting this fire,” said Kay Beall, a spokeswoman for the Boise National Forest. “It’s moving toward Highway 21. As we move in that direction, we would be encountering private property, so we want to get a handle on it.”

Meanwhile, the Wildhorse fire burned 160 acres of the rugged Salmon-Challis National Forest about 22 miles west of Mackay, just over the mountains from the resort town of Sun Valley.

Campers were evacuated from Wildhorse Campground. One outbuilding was threatened, and fire crews spotted the fire racing to the tops of trees and being driven by the wind, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Web site.

Across Idaho, about 34,000 acres – mostly in remote areas – were burning, the most of any state.

Montana

Managers Sunday reported little change in a week-old wildfire burning trees, brush and grass in the Plains area and said containment of the blaze remained at 50 percent.

The Seepay Two fire was estimated at 7,800 acres, up from 7,500 a day earlier.

Firefighters prepared for winds to 25 mph, information officer Wayne Johnson said. Managers expect containment of the fire, which is on the Flathead Indian Reservation, by Sept. 15.

Johnson said the cost of fighting the fire has risen to about $2.4 million. About 675 people have been assigned.

In southwestern Montana, the size of the Signal Rock fire south of Skalkaho Pass remained at about 10,000 acres. Five percent of the fire was contained. The blaze started on Aug. 9.

© Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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