Battle for Featherville underway
The Battle for Featherville is underway as fire crews begin fighting fire with fire in a race against time before a storm front that could cause erratic and unpredictable behavior with the Trinity Ridge Fire hits the area Friday afternoon.
Fire crews moved from a defensive to an offensive posture Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning as they took the fight to the fire, which has burned over 109,713 acres of prime forest land in Elmore County, more than 171 square miles of terrain.
With favorable weather conditions Wednesday, firefighters began the battle by setting controlled burns along the ridge west of Featherville on the northern part of the Pine-Featherville corridor.
But a dry cold front is expected to bring very low humidity levels and winds of 20-30 mph starting early Friday afternoon.
The northwest winds are expected to carry the fire east and away from Idaho City, but cause increased fire activity in Swanholm Creek and toward the Black Warrior Creek drainage.
The weather event will also keep many firefighters standing guard in Featherville in efforts to identify and quickly contain any spot fires in the Pine-Featherville corridor.
The fire, which began Aug. 3, is now the National Interagency Fire Center's top priority in the nation.
Dropping ping-pong-ball sized incendiary devices from helicopters, fire crews expect the fires they're starting in advance of the main fire line will burn slowly downhill, removing low, dry vegetation, to create a buffer zone for the residences of Featherville. The controlled burns are expected to leave a burn scar that will starve the main fire of any fuel to advance.
If the operation is successful, firing may continue over the next few days to help widen the line between the main fire and Featherville along the Pine/Featherville corridor.
Fire crews have been waiting for the right combination of weather and the advance of the Trinity Ridge fire into the "ambush" zone they've planned.
The Trinity Ridge Fire has moved slower than originally anticipated, allowing fire crews time to build a defensive barrier around Featherville by removing debris on the forest floor and creating firebreaks in depth.
Crews and engines will remain on the scene to monitor the controlled fire.
Structure protection is in place with more than a dozen fire departments around the region, including the Mountain Home city and rural departments, standing by to support the Forest Service operation in the event embers from either the controlled burns or the main fire are blown onto residences in Featherville.
The Forest Service is hoping to "turn" the fire in several areas into burn scars from previous fires in the mountains where there is less "fuel" to feed the fire.
In the Pine-Featherville area, there are two main arms of the fire reaching out in a pincer movement on the southeast flank of the blaze. The northern one is aimed at Featherville, while the southern one is slowly advancing on Johnson Bridge. If the southern arm of the pincer were to reach the bridge -- and fire crews are working to prevent that -- it would cut off the only major road to the firefighters in Featherville.
Thursday the burnout operation continued along the northwest ridge behind the town of Featherville. By reducing fuel between residences and the main fire, the burnout will provide a buffer when the fire approaches.
Crews are now working in the Featherville-Pine corridor 24 hours a day, managing the burnout and doing structure and point protection.
Burnout operations continued yesterday near the community of Featherville and slightly south using ground and aerial ignitions.
Firing operations also continued south of Trinity Lake to attempt to stem the spread into Fall Creek. Crews will continue to work in the Trinity Basin area today.
In other areas, the fire continues to burn into previous burn scars. One spot fire was contained on the western flank. Crews will fight the fire directly on a small portion of the western flank today. The fire is about 10 miles west of Atlanta. Residents in Idaho City and Atlanta will likely see bigger smoke columns today. Aerial firing was conducted Wednesday on the north section of the fire to draw it into the 1994 Rabbit Creek Burn.
A new incident management team was added to the battle against the Trinity Ridge Fire Wednesday, It took control of the fire from Sheep Mountain on the west side of the fire to the confluence of the Middle Fork and the Queen's River on the east side of the fire. The fire is slowly burning roughly toward Idaho City, and has reached the Hermeda Mine site as it also slowly advances on Atlanta.
The Forest Service has been giving daily briefings to citizens in the Pine senior center each day at 10:30 a.m., and is now beginning a series of briefings in Idaho City as well.
Firefighters have completed indirect line construction northwest along Dog Mountain ridgeline.
In the northwest, between the Middle and North Forks of the Boise River, the fire is burning actively towards the west, compromising the fire line. Firefighters are now looking for other locations to construct containment lines.
A total of 1,436 Forest Service firefighters from 31 fireline crews, 79 engines, two dozers and 24 water tenders are fighting the fire, which is advancing all around its perimeter.
In addition to helicopters dropping water on the fire, U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft equipped with special gear 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 C-130s 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.
There are times when weather and smoke makes it impossible to fly the drops, however. In fact, the area is smothered in smoke in the valleys, which is considered a health hazard for those with respiratory problems.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has activated the National Guard to help. A seven-man crew and Lakota medivac helicopter is on station and other Guardsmen are providing security in the area, including enforcing the road closures that prevent civilians from entering the Pine-Featherville area now.
It has cost $17.2 million to fight the fire so far.
Five injuries to firefighters have been reported as of Friday morning, none serious.
An evacuation order involving the Featherville area was expanded Aug. 19 to include Baker's Acres south to Grouse Creek near the Paradise subdivision because of thick smoke and reduced visibility from the fire.
The Elmore County Sheriff's Department ordered the initial evacuation of the Featherville area Aug. 18 as the Trinity Ridge Fire moved closer to the rural community.
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. Some Featherville residents have elected to stay in their community, however.
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 (653-2323). 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.
Meanwhile, the Pine-Featherville Road remains closed to all vehicles with the exception of fire and emergency traffic.
Many roads in the mountains 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.
In addition to the main Pine-Featherville Road from Highway 20, key roads closed include:
* 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.