UPDATE: Burnout operations near Featherville winding down

Friday, August 31, 2012 ~ Updated 6:53 AM
Despite the burnout operations and the spread of the Trinity Ridge Fire to the edge of Featherville last weekend, there is still some green in the forest around the small mountain community.

Burnout operations on the Trinity Ridge Fire in the Featherville area are almost complete, with crews holding and improving burned out areas around the community Friday.

The Elmore County Sheriff's Office evacuation order continues for the area from Featherville to Paradise.

An evacuation center is being operated at the Pine Senior Center by the Salvation Army with support from the Red Cross.

The Elmore County Sheriff's office has asked that evacuees with a critical need to access their properties contact the Incident Command Post. The decision to allow access will be made on a case-by-case basis. Residents should call the Sheriff's Incident Command at 208-590-3845.

Residents can stay informed by attending daily community meetings at 10:30 a.m, listening to the radio, calling the fire information line at 208-653-2164, or calling Incident Command, said Gary Walker, Elmore County sheriff fire information officer

The Trinity Ridge has burned more than 142,000 acres and is now considered to be 18 percent contained. It is expected to burn until snowfall arrives in October.

Good progress was made over the past 24 hours as the burnout operations were completed in the Wagontown drainage on the southern edge of the fire between Pine and Featherville. The burnouts will help stem the spread of the fire to the south. Crews have made good progress in bringing the fire slowly down into the Wagontown drainage.

Fire Managers say they are confident the defensive barriers around the town of Featherville are secure and are continuing the construction of lines and fire barriers southwest to prevent the fire from possibly jumping the river into the Pine-Featherville corridor.

The Forest Service expanded its closure area slightly Thursday. The Trinity Ridge Fire is within the closure area, which is typically several miles from the fire line.

All that activity is creating a serious health threat to residents and crews in the area from the thick smoke lying in the valley. The smoke persists into the afternoons due to inversions.

Featherville residents were allowed to go in Tuesday to check their property for a limited time. A total of 33 vehicles, occupied by residents, were checked in and many of them came back thanking the Unified Incident Command staff for affording them the opportunity and praising the firefighters who saved their homes, a sheriff's office spokesperson Gary Walker said. "They were very surprised to see how limited the damage was to the surrounding forest and all found their homes undamaged by the fire. One resident even described how the firefighters cut and stacked the wood in her yard."

The Elmore County Sheriff's Office consults daily with Fire Incident Commander Beth Lund to assess when it will be safe to let Featherville residents back to check their homes and ultimately when the evacuation order can be lifted and residents will be allowed go home permanently.

With the Labor Day Weekend approaching, the public is reminded that all recreation areas are still closed, by order of the Boise National Forest, and no one will be allowed to enter the area towing RVs, ATVs or similar equipment. In fact, the closure area was slightly expanded Thursday (see map).

Checkpoints manned by National Guardsmen are still in place and all residents must show ID and proof of residence.

Areas below Anderson Ranch dam are unaffected by the closure order but the Pine-Featherville Road remains closed for most traffic.

Fire crews are attempting to build a six-mile strip of firebreaks and burnout areas to make sure the fire does not threaten either Pine or Featherville.

After constructing a contingency line between Wagontown and Green Creeks, about eight miles north of Pine, firefighters Tuesday began a burnout operation that will consume fuels from that line east to the Pine-Featherville Road, in efforts to secure that portion of the fire line by Thursday evening.

Fire activity Thursday evening was moderate along the west and northwest flanks. Four Hotshot crews, aided by helicopter bucket drops, are working to contain a 10-acre spot fire across the North Fork Boise River in the vicinity of Barber Flats. Line construction has begun from Rabbit Creek Summit south to Thorn Creek Butte, using existing roads where possible.

The fire continues to grow around Sheep Mountain, moving south of Sheep Creek and into Pete and Repeat Creek drainages. Crews are building line and starting a multi-day burnout operation in the Pete and Repeat Creek areas as well as Big Five Creek. That operation will reduce fuels in an effort to keep the fire from crossing that portion of the Middle Fork of the Boise River.

A line also was being constructed in the area around Black Rock Campground, and crews began to do prep work on the Middle Fork Road from a fire scar southwest toward Sheep Rock drainage. They will be using aircraft to try and slow the fire's progression toward the Middle Fork on the western flank.

Crews scouted the Middle Fork Boise River Tuesday looking for opportunities to construct hand line and contingency line northwest of Sheep Mountain. The area continues to burn actively and is now two miles east of Neinmeyer Campground along the Middle Fork Road.

The helicopter base was moved yesterday south to Highway 20 to avoid the smoke layer that hangs in the valley and inhibits flying. That will enable helicopters to begin bucket drops earlier in the day when the fire is less active.

A cold front is moving over the area, bringing cooler temperatures and higher humidity. However, winds are expected to increase and gust up to 24 mph.

Fire crews have able to turn some portions of the fire into old burn areas where fuel is limited, thus slowing its movement in some critical areas.

The fire has not crossed the North Fork of the Boise River and remains over five miles south of the Deer Park area.

On the west flank, helicopters were used in the Sheep Mountain area to cool the fire, which was active Monday.

Tuesday's plan was to burnout from that line in an effort to stop the fire's southern movement. Structure protection engines continue to staff the road between Featherville and Pine in case any spot fires develop.

The fire is slowly burning roughly toward Idaho City and has reached within ten miles of Atlanta, at the Hermeda mine site.

On the western flank, firefighters are taking advantage of natural features, such as rocky ridgetops and areas of sparser fuels to build a line between Trinity Mountain and Sheep Mountain.

In addition to Featherville, evacuations are still in place for Dutch Creek, Swanholm, Weatherby and Queen River campgrounds. Many roads are currently closed, including:

* Road 227 at the county line east of Baumgartner Campground (the campground is closed).

* Intersection of Highway 20 and Forest Highway 61 (Pine-Featherville Road).

* Intersection of Lester Creek Road and Lake Creek Road.

A total of 1,223 Forest Service firefighters from 25 fireline crews, 75 engines, two dozers and 25 water tenders are fighting the fire, which is slowly advancing around most of 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.

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.

It has cost $27.4 million to fight the fire so far.

A total of only four structures, mainly Forest Service buildings, and eight outbuildings have been lost so far.

The fire started Aug. 3 when a private all-terrain utility vehicle caught on fire on a remote road along Trinity Ridge.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: