The Mountain Home Fire Department will be sending crews and equipment into the Pine-Featherville area. Residents of those communities are being urged to evacuate the two towns as the Trinity Ridge Fire moves toward them.
Driven by high winds, the fire exploded once again Tuesday night, adding more than 15,000 acres to the forest areas already charred. By Wednesday morning it had grown to 63,000 acres.
The fire Wednesday morning was one mile from Rocky Bar and seven miles from Featherville, advancing on both communities.
Meeting in an emergency session Wednesday morning, the Mountain Home City Council approved an authorization to send crews and equipment to the area. Forest Service crews are prohibited by law from fighting structure fires, which have unique dangers, but the Mountain Home crews are well-trained in fighting such fires of homes and businesses.
At present, the plan is to send two pumpers and a water tender plus eight crewmen from the city and rural fire district resources. Fire Chief Alan Bermensolo will lead the team.
The Forest Service Wednesday morning began a tactical withdrawal in some areas, pulling firefighters off the fireline and falling back to set up a defensive perimeter around Featherville.
Mayor Tom Rist, who has been briefed on the current situation in the mountans, and assistant fire chief Bud Corbus, told the rest of the city council that it was a virtual certainty the fire would reach Featherville in the next few days and a high probability it would push down to the Pine and Fall Creek resort areas, possibly stopping only when it reaches the reservoir, "unless we get some rain," Corbus said.
Residents of the Pine-Featherville areas were briefed during a community meeting Wednesday morning and told to stay informed by "listening to the radio, calling the fire information line at 208-653-2164, or calling the sheriff's office at 208-587-2100," according to Gary Walker, Elmore County fire information officer.
No formal evacuation order has been issued, yet, but one is expected within the next 48 hours.
Residents of the area are urged to prepare to evacuate and pack personal papers, photos, prescriptions and medications as well as making arrangements for their pets.
The sheriff's department will provide a timeline and start the evacuation when it is necessary, Walker said.
With access roads from Highway 20 to the Pine-Featherville area closed, only property owners of both communities are being allowed access between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to retrieve valuables their residences. People will need to provide proof of residence to gain access to the area, and only immediate family members will be allowed to accompany residents.
The Elmore County Sheriff's Department, in coordination incident fire managers, will continue to assess the situation. Road closures may be altered as fire conditions warrant.
"Public and firefighter safety is our first priority. Smoke may be heavy at times, and emergency vehicles will be traveling in both directions," Walker said. "Please remember to drive safely, keep your headlights on, stay calm and follow the sheriff's deputies instructions."
"This is a natural disaster," Corbus told the city council. "You can't really stop something this size."
Under the agreement approved by the council, the county will pay the city $4,343 a day to send its equipment and crews to the fire area. Mayor Rist said he guessed they would be there anywhere from two to seven days.
Arrangements have been made to have the Mountain Home Air Force Base Fire Department stand by in the event something happened in the Mountain Home city or rural fire district areas that would require their assistance to make up for the crews and equipment being sent to the mountains. "A.B. (Chief Alan Bermensolo) has been five steps ahead on this all along," Corbus said. "All the planning has been done and we're ready to go."
Rist said the formal request for the city and rural fireman was expected to be made by the Forest Service early Wednesday afternoon. If a disaster occurred in Mountain Home, the crews could be recalled immediately, Rist said.
"God speed and may he protect our firefighters," the mayor added.
Friday morning, the Elmore County Commissioners declared a disaster emergency in the county in the hopes of activating state assistance.
Meeting in special session the commissioners said that the county "requires state emergency assistance to supplement local efforts to protect life and property and to activate the response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local or intergovernmental disaster emergency plans...."
City fire crews also work for the Mountain Home Rural Fire District, which also has authorized the use of its equipment outside the district to help fight structure fires in the Pine-Featherville area.
The Trinity Ridge Fire began Aug. 3 when a utility all-terrain vehicle caught on fire along a remote mountain road.
Last Wednesday, Aug. 8, the fire exploded in size, going from a few thousand acres to nearly 20,000 in a day. Since then, it has continued to grow at every point along the fireline, driven by winds and an inversion that is driving it through the lower valleys, even as more than 900 firefighters have been called in to fight the blaze.
Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning the fire grew from 47,000 acres to 63,000.
Six USAF C-130 aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) that allows them to drop fire retardant and Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) were utilized Tuesday along the Trinity Ridge Road (FS Road 129) in efforts to hold the fire west of the road, but the fire became more active and jumped the road. Retardant drops were effective in cooling the blaze, however, preventing a large run as it entered into Whiskey Jack Creek.
On the west flank the fire has moved towards Alexander Flat out of the Browns Creek drainage. The fire also has crossed James Creek Road. Access via the Middle Fork Road remains closed as well.
The fire has also burned around Rocky Bar, approaching along the James Creek Road. Firefighters performed structure protection work throughout the day, running sprinklers and removing fuels at Weatherby and Rocky Bar. A similar sprinkler system was being set up Wednesday to protect the cabins at the edge of Featherville.
A majority of the firefighting resources will remain focused on the southern half of the fire, where protection of Rocky Bar and the community of Featherville remain top priorities.
Helicopters also are supporting the ground crews, flying almost non-stop dropping water on the fire that is threatening Rocky Bar, Featherville and moving toward Atlanta. A 15,000-gallon water tank, called a heliwell, has been set up at Rocky Bar to reduce the time needed for helicopters to return to a water source to dip their buckets.
In addition to 22 fireline crews and two fire management teams, resources helping battle the fire include 27 engines, two dozers and 16 water tenders. It has cost $5.8 million to fight the fire so far.
The roads from Highway 20 to Pine-Featherville were closed Friday afternoon at their junction with Highway 20 to all but local residents.
The road closure remains in effect at the following locations:
* Intersection of Highway 20 and Pine-Featherville Road.
* Intersection of Lester Creek and Lake Creek roads from Baumgartner Road at the Shake Creek Guard Station east of Featherville.
* Rocky Bar Road between Featherville and Atlanta.
* The Castle Rock and High Prairie roads.
Crews were able to begin a burnout operation along the west bank of Swanholm River last week with the intent of holding the fire to the west side of the river. Once the inversion lifted Sunday afternoon, however, fire activity along the south flank and north flanks of the fire increased.
Structure protection work was completed in Weatherby Airstrip, Swanholm and Alexander Flats to the west. Structure protection also began at Hermada Mine, toward which the northern part of the fire was advancing.
So far, only four structures and four outbuildings, used to house Forest Service crews and equipment, have been destroyed by the fire, which remains only 5 percent contained.
Fire has reached the summit of Steele Mountain and has established itself on the east side of the mountain with torching trees and spotting embers that were starting new fires at least a quarter of a mile away.
The west flank of the fire worked its way to the ridge top on the west side of Roaring River. The fire crossed Swanholm River and is moving in a direct line with the Hermada Mine site and the Swanholm Lookout.
A spike camp was moved for firefighter safety as the fire grew and there is an immediate threat to James Creek Road.
Monday, the fire crossed Road 129 to the southwest. Fire crews will continue work along the road to hold the fire to the west. Structure protection for the Trinity Lakes Guard Station started Tuesday.
The Pine and Weatherby airports are closed to the public.
The fire has crossed the Middle Fork Boise river, despite the best efforts of fire crews to prevent it.
A continual challenge to fire fighters is how the fire burns in pockets of heavy timber, said Forest Service spokesperson David Olson. Even with extensive air tanker use, the fire has pushed through retardant lines, due largely to spot fires that were started by the hot embers lofted into the sky when individual or groups of trees completely torched. Ignition probability when the hot embers land on the forest floor is 90 percent, according to fire managers.
Evacuations have been ordered for Dutch Creek, Swanholm, Weatherby and Queen River campgrounds.
Smokey conditions and increased fire traffic in the area are leading to hazardous driving conditions, U.S. Forest Service officials said.
Residents of Pine and Featherville are urged to use extreme caution when driving along the Pine-Featherville Road and in areas where smoke limits visibility. Drivers are urged to keep their headlights on at all time when driving. Those planning to visit the area need to make alternate plans and use alternate travel routes, forest service officials said.
Smoke has resulted in poor visibility and air quality conditions throughout the valley between Pine and Featherville, and has even leaked through the mountains into the Boise vallley, causing both visibility and air quality problems there.
Those with respiratory health conditions in Atlanta are advised to evacuate the area. Recreationists in Atlanta are being told to evacuate the area.
Individuals with existing heart and respiratory health conditions and sensitivity to smoke need to be aware that heavy smoke conditions will continue in the Featherville, Pine and Atlanta areas. Recommendations are to reduce physical exertion and refrain from outdoor activity
A huge area of the forest from Featherville north and west, including Atlanta, was closed by the Forest Service last week, although areas around Arrowrock, Fall Creek and Twin Springs areas remain open.
Access to Atlanta is is now closed through the James Creek Road.
Middle Fork Road 268 is closed at William Pogue to Atlanta, but Twin Springs is open.
Many other roads are currently closed as outlined in the Boise National Forest Trinity Ridge Fire Road Closure Order issued last Thursday.
Forest Service Road 156 was being prepared over the weekend for a burnout along the eastern edge. Specialized falling crews also were working along roadways throughout the fire to remove hazardous snag trees.
Further information on the closed areas, and updated fire information is at www.inciweb.org.