Preliminary work for burnout operations in the Pine-Featherville corridor have begun and will take place when the fire is properly positioned for backfires to be most effective, something that could begin as early as today.
Fire managers are planning a major backfire operation from Featherville to Pine, which could take several days, but the fire has to be in the right position to do that.
A major fire such as Trinity Ridge tends to create its own "weather" in its immediate vicinity as it sucks air toward the fire line.
When properly done, a backfire set close enough to the fire line will be sucked toward the fire, leaving a charred area that will starve the advancing main fire of any fuel to burn.
Burnout operations in the Pine-Featherville corridor will take place when conditions allow. Firefighters are improving on their structure protection work there as they "patiently wait for the right timing to offensively engage with the fire," fire officials said.
Structure preparation is complete, with over 9 miles of hose, more than 40 pumps in place, and water holding tanks throughout the area. Aerial ignition was used in the afternoon to reduce fuels in unburned areas north of the Pine-Featherville corridor prior to the burnout.
Several thunderstorms moved over the fire Tuesday night with light rain falling in some areas. The fire continues to creep and smolder in those areas that received moisture and is burning actively in areas that remained dry.
Gusty and variable winds allowed the fire to spread in all directions, with concentrated activity in the Sheep Mountain.
Fire managers continue to be concerned over the northwest section of the fire, between the Middle and North Forks of the Boise River. Firefighters will again be working in that area in an effort to keep the fire from spreading to the west.
Their work will be aided by air support as visibility allows.
Burnout operations were performed yesterday on the north flank in the Swanholm drainage to help connect the fire with the old Rabbit Fire burn scar. That will help slow and hold the fire's movement in that direction.
A successful aerial ignition operation was performed on the southeast flank to burn out an area that is surrounded on three sides by fire.
That was performed to protect a few historical structures located south and west of Rocky Bar.
The fire is moving slowly to the east and meeting with old burn scars from three previous fires.
Firefighters will again focus on completing indirect line construction northwest along Dog Mountain ridgeline.
A community meeting is being held in Pine today (Wednesday) at 10:30 a.m. As the fire burns to the west, a community meeting also is being called in Idaho City at the Idaho City Community hall, beginning at 6 p.m.
Due to the size and complexity of the fire, the Boise National Forest has called in another team to assist with managing the fire. On Friday morning, Quisenberry's Southern Area Type I Incident Management Team will take over the area north of a line drawn from Sheep Mountain on the west side of the fire to the confluence of Middle Fork of the Boise with Leggitt Creek to the east.
Meanwhile, the Idaho National Guard began moving troops and equipment to assist firemen fighting the blaze, following a disaster declaration of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.
Erratic wind and weather conditions are making it difficult for fire managers to battle the Trinity Ridge Fire.
The fire has opened two main arms on its east side. The northern arm had been the area of greatest concern for a week, with fire managers expecting a direct hit on Featherville.
The fire has burned an estimated 97,457 acres, or just over 152 square miles.
But Sunday night, the fire stalled and shifted slightly. It may now hit the mountain community only a glancing blow. Meanwhile, the southern of the two arms to the east is now approaching the Johnson Bridge area, between Featherville and Pine, potentially cutting off the main road to Featherville.
As the fire moves into lower elevations it is finding drier conditions with more fuel (brush and dried wood) available to contribute to its spread.
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.
Fire behavior is active with group torching in mixed conifer and timber stringers as well as crowning in some areas. When a fire crowns it can move as much as 40-60 mph through the tops of trees.
Spotting, where embers are thrown off from the fire in advance of the fire line, continues to be roughly a half mile from the main fire line and ignition probability when the hot embers land on the forest floor is 90 percent, according to fire managers. Convective columns have developed and all fuel types are receptive for fire growth. Moth and beetle damage over the years have left significant amounts of dead and extremely dry timber interspersed with the green pines that make up more of the forest.
Evacuation order for Featherville expanded
The Elmore County Sheriff's Department ordered the initial evacuation of the Featherville area Saturday as the Trinity Ridge Fire moved closer to the rural community.
Meanwhile, the Pine-Featherville Road remains closed to all vehicles with the exception of fire and emergency traffic.
Although Pine residents are not included in the evacuation, anyone leaving the Pine and Featherville area will not be allowed to pass through any roadblocks back into the area.
The American Red Cross established evacuation centers in Pine at the South Fork Boise River Senior Center, located at 350 N. Pine Featherville Rd. (653-2595), and at the Pines Resort. The Red Cross is providing assistance at the evacuation centers.
Although no mandatory evacuation order has been issued for Pine so far, residents there are being strongly encouraged to leave the area.
Gov. Otter and his wife, Lori, who own a cabin in the area, had been attending the daily 10:30 a.m. briefings offered to the community by the Forest Service at the senior center in Pine and like many residents of the area had been working to clear debris and trees around his cabin until he got the evacuation order.
Those living in the Pine-Featherville area or who own property there were 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.
Recent fire activity
The Forest Service last week began a tactical withdrawal in some areas, pulling firefighters off the fireline and falling back to set up a defensive perimeter around Featherville, working to take out existing fuel, clearing detritus from the ground around structures, setting up a sprinkling system similar to that used at Rocky Bar, building a fire break and preparing for backfire operations. The goal is to create defensible space around the buildings.
Tuesday the fire was not as active, allowing firefighters to make progress on several fronts. Defensible space and hand lines are nearly completed in the Featherville and Pine areas.
Firefighters continued constructing defensive lines on Dog Mountain Ridge.
On the southern flank, in the Trinity Lakes area, the fire did not advance as much as expected.
In the northwest part of the fire, firefighters were able to complete indirect lines between the Middle Fork of the Boise River and along the ridgeline above Barber Flat.
The far northern flank of the fire is burning into the old Rabbit Creek burn, which is slowing fire growth.
A cold front is forecast to move through the area early today (Wednesday), causing winds to shift to the south/southwest. A Red Flag warning has been issued for the afternoon due to thunderstorms and gusty, erratic winds after the front passes.
Crews are continuing to build a hand line ahead of the fire in the northwest and southwest areas of the fire.
Firefighters will continue to prepare defensible space and hand lines in the Featherville and Pine areas.
The fire was active to the south Sunday, moving into the area of Big Trinity Campground and Green Creek to the south.
Crews made progress constructing hand line along Dog Mountain Ridge southeast of the fire. A small burnout operation was conducted on the northwest flank of the fire to strengthen the section of fireline between the Middle and North Fork Boise Rivers near Barber Flat.
Lightning from the thunderstorm that passed through Sunday also sparked a small fire in Robert's Gulch east of Featherville. A hotshot team staged nearby was able to quickly extinguish the flames that burned about a quarter of an acre.
A small burnout operation was conducted on the northwest flank of the fire to strengthen the section of fireline between the Middle and North Fork Boise
Additional handline construction continued near Barber Flat over the ridgeline between the Middle and North Fork Boise Rivers.
A small burnout operation was conducted to strengthen that section of fireline. No firing operations have been conducted in Featherville at this time.
Monday, crews continued to build a handline ahead of the fire in the northwest and southwest areas of the fire.
Fire crews to make their stand
The fire is predicted to reach Featherville soon, depending on wind and fire activity. That's where fire crews will make their stand in hopes of turning the fire aside from the mountain community.
The fire also advanced toward the North Fork of the Boise River on the northwest flank and southwest into the old Roaring River Fire. The fire has wrapped around Rocky Bar and continues moving to the south along Rocky Bar road.
"The fire went from a matter of 'if' to 'when' it'll hit Featherville," said Mountain Home Fire Chief Alan Bermensolo in a briefing to city and county officials last Wednesday afternoon. The current fire model up to Saturday showed that the city of Pine is not in immediate danger, according to the city fire chief. However, he emphasized during that meeting last week that the prediction could change rapidly, depending on how fast the fire grows.
Firefighters are continuing to focus on structure protection in the Featherville and Pine areas.
As part of the stand at Featherville, fire crews hope to try and turn the fire, directing it into an area that burned two years ago above Baumgartner Campground where there would be little fuel for that arm of the fire.
The fire has moved to the northwest near Barber Flat and is nearing the North Fork of the Boise River. To the north, crews continue to address protection needs in Atlanta and at the Swanholm Lookout.
Four Structure Protection Zones have been implemented at Featherville, Trinity/Rawah, McCoy, and Elk. Control lines are being constructed as needed and structure triage continues as new resources arrive.
In the Trinity/Rawah Zone resources have prepared the Trinity Guard Station, cabin and warming hut for burnout. Crews also are mopping up Alexander Flat after burnout operations there and are preparing Barber Flat for burnout.
The Weatherby Airstrip is being mopped up and secured with structure protection available for Atlanta.
The North Contingency Group is setting up structure protection at the Hermanda Mine, between the northern part of the fire line and Atlanta.
Most of Rocky Bar saved
Driven by high winds, the fire had exploded once again Aug. 14-15, adding more than 21,000 acres to the forest areas already charred in less than 24 hours. The fire quickly reached the ridgeline on Sheep Mountain on the west side of the fire and on the east it overran the historic ghost town of Rocky Bar.
Firefighters had performed structure protection work last week, running sprinklers and removing fuels at Weatherby and Rocky Bar with large-scale sprinkler systems turned on there in hopes of saturating the ground to provide the buildings some level of protection, while building a huge fire break around those areas.
"In the Rocky Bar area, structure protection and burnout operations have so far been successful in protecting historic structures, " Olson said last week. The fire passed around the historic community on Aug. 16 with no structures lost.
Mop-up operations are nearing completion in the Rocky Bar area and crews will soon be available to aid in the Pine Featherville corridor.
Economic losses could be huge
At least 500 homes, cabins and businesses are located in the valley between Pine and Featherville.
The assessed valuation of the 537 homes and cabins in the Pine-Featherville area being threatened by the fire (not counting the land) is $54.5 million, according to Elmore County Assessor Ron Fisher.
Those properties generate a little over $550,000 in taxes.
Properties in the Atlanta area add another $3.5 million in assessed valuation and $52,000 in taxes.
So far, only four structures and four outbuildings, used to house Forest Service crews and equipment, have been destroyed by the fire, which is now considered to be 5 percent contained. Forest officials don't expect the fire to burn out until some time in October when it begins to snow in the mountains.
City firefighters, others stand by to battle structural fires
The Mountain Home Fire Department sent two of its pumper trucks and one tanker from its city and rural fire district resources as well as eight firefighters to Pine on Aug. 16 to prepare for the pending battle in Featherville, at the request of the county and the Forest Service.
According to Bermensolo, the city crew would respond to any structural blaze once the wildfire sweeps through the Featherville area.
Assistant Fire Chief Bud Corbus added that the Mountain Home Air Force Base Fire Department remains ready to respond if the city's remaining resources are overwhelmed due to another emergency. The city's deployed fire crew is expected to remain at the staging area in Pine for at least a week.
Meeting in an emergency session Aug. 15, the Mountain Home City Council had responded to an earlier request from the county commissioners and approved an authorization to send crews and equipment to the mountains. The Mountain Home Rural Fire District also approved the use of its equipment by the local firemen. Mountain Home interim Fire Chief Bermensolo is leading the team. 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.
The local firemen would be used to fight structure fires. 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.
In addition to fire department units from Mountain Home, structure protection engines from around southern Idaho arrived in Featherville last week to familiarize themselves with the community.
At least 13 city and rural fire departments have sent crews and equipment capable of fighting structure fires, some from as far away as Salt Lake City. Units identified so far, in addition to Mountain Home firemen, include (in part) crews and equipment from: Gooding, Meridian, Eagle (2 engines), Kuna, Star, Emmett, Filer, Weiser, Jerome, Gem County, Caldwell, and the Salt Lake City Unified Fire District.
On Aug. 10, the Elmore County Commissioners had declared a disaster emergency in the county in the hopes of activating state assistance.
Governor clears the way
for National Guard to help
On Aug. 15 Gov. Otter signed the state disaster declaration requested by the commissioners. The Federal Emergency Management Agency quickly followed that by approving a fire management assistance grant for the Trinity Fire, which would help offset the costs to the county for sending the Mountain Home firemen into the mountains.
The governor's disaster declaration allows Idaho National Guardsmen to assist the firefighters.
DHS Public Information Officer Rob Feeley said the Guard would be used initially for ground transportation, security in the area and providing helicopters if medical evacuations are needed. The Idaho National Guard already has staged one UH-72 Lakota medical helicopter with seven soldiers in the fire area.
The other guardsmen who will be first on the scene this week will provide checkpoint security personnel to assist with road closures in the area. Details are currently being worked out, but the incident commander has requested 80 Idaho National Guard members to staff 20 checkpoints, 24 hours a day. The teams will consist of both airmen and soldiers from various Idaho Army Guard and Air Guard units. They are expected to be on the ground by now. At present, the assignment is scheduled to last until Sept. 21, but could be extended. Other capabilities of the Guard could be accessed if needed.
History of the fire
The Trinity Ridge Fire began Aug. 3 when a private utility all-terrain vehicle caught fire along a remote mountain road.
On 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.
The fire has crossed the Middle Fork of the Boise River, despite the best efforts of fire crews to prevent it.
Last week the fire entered into the Whiskey Jack Creek drainage and moved towards Alexander Flat out of the Browns Creek drainage. The fire also had crossed James Creek Road, from which it began threatening Rocky Bar.
Fire has reached the summit of Steele Mountain and established itself on the east side of the mountain.
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.
The fire also crossed Road 129 to the southwest. Structure protection for the Trinity Lakes Guard Station started last week.
Fire is nation's top priority
Helicopters also are supporting the ground crews, flying almost non-stop dropping water on the fire that is threatening Featherville and moving toward Atlanta. It is now the National Interagency Fire Center's top priority in the nation.
Six U.S. Air Force 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) are flying out of Gowen Field in Boise to help fight the fire. The planes MAFFS units are owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Each one allows a C-130 to carry up to 3,000 gallons of slurry that can be sprayed at burn areas in less than five seconds. More than a quarter million gallons of retardant have been dropped on the Trinity Ridge Fire, alone.
In addition to 1,148 Forest Service firefighters from 25 fireline crews and two fire management teams (one working the north and west sides of the fire and the other the south and east sides), federal resources helping battle the fire include 59 engines, two dozers and 21 water tenders. It has cost $14.2 million to fight the fire so far. Five injuries to firefighters have been reported as of Thursday morning, none serious.
Large areas closed to access
The road from Highway 20 to Pine-Featherville were closed Aug. 10 at their junction with Highway 20 to all but local residents.
Many other roads are currently closed as outlined in the Boise National Forest Trinity Ridge Fire Road Closure Order.
Further information on the closed areas, and updated fire information is at www.inciweb.org.
Key roads closed are:
* 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.
* The Castle Rock and High Prairie roads.
* Rocky Bar Road between Featherville and Atlanta.
With the fire burning over the James Creek Road, all access to Atlanta is now closed from the Elmore County side to all traffic except for fire support personnel.
The Pine and Weatherby airports are closed to the public.
Dutch Creek, Swanholm, Weatherby and Queen River Campground have all been evacuated.
A huge area of the forest from Featherville north and west, including Atlanta, has been closed by the Forest Service, although areas around Arrowrock, Fall Creek and Twin Springs areas remain open.
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.
Further information on the closed areas, and updated fire information is at www.inciweb.org.
Smoke poses health problems
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 valley, 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