The ubiquitous hot and dry weather caught up with central Idaho’s forestlands Thursday, as wildland fire crews worked all day on the first significant forest fires of summer near Grandjean and Yellow Pine. While no structures were threatened, both have a large potential for growth due to the weather forecasts through the weekend.
The Trailhead near Grandjean fire ballooned to 1,000 acres by Thursday evening, casting a white smoke cloud high above this piny nook just off Idaho 21.
The human-caused fire is burning in Douglas fir and lodgepole pine, Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Julie Thomas said. Trail creek trail is the only closure so far due to the fire.
Wildfires are burning around the West, and resources are stretched thin, meaning crews on the Trailhead fire may have to wait for reinforcements, Thomas said. The last large forest fire in the area was the Valley Road Fire outside of Stanley last September and national resources were tied up in helping the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
“This is a Katrina repeat for us,” Thomas said.
About 70 firefighters, two helicopters and an air tanker were working on the fire Thursday night. Hot, dry conditions and rugged terrain were hampering suppression efforts, Thomas said.
The fire is burning in the Trail and Silver Creek drainages and headed northeast. Firefighters hope to block the fire from entering into the Stanley Creek drainage, which has significant amount of trees that were killed by pine beetle infestation.
“We are really hoping to get it before (the fire) gets to that,” Waldapfel said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the fire, which started just off Trail Creek Trail.
After 10 hours cutting line in steep, rocky terrain, firefighters from a Homedale crew marched single file down a trailhead Thursday night. Heat and fatigue are an issue for firefighters because of the difficult conditions. Weather forecast for today in the fire area show temperatures in the low 90s.
Sporting an orange chainsaw slung over his shoulder and a sweat-soaked bandanna, a soot-covered Corey Frederick said just getting to the fire lines was demanding.
“It felt like 300 miles to the top of the mountain, meet Jesus at the end,” the Homedale firefighter said.
The fire is burning away from Grandjean, and business at the Sawtooth Lodge was normal Saturday night, except for accommodating dozens of hungry firefighters camping nearby, lodge cook Carla Alley said.
“We’re still booked, up and running and ready for more,” she said.
Eric Wunrow and his wife, Sandra, are planning a 60-mile backpacking trip through the Sawtooths but the fire is burning in the middle of their route. The Denver couple is still planning to go but they’re looking at a detour around the fire.
“We’re rethinking the trip,” Eric Wunrow said.
The Quartz Creek fire, about six miles north of Yellow Pine, was estimated Thursday evening to be about 90 acres, with flames reaching as high as 50 feet. The fire is burning in steep, remote terrain, so all firefighting is being done by airplane. Fire officials suspect the fire was ignited by a lightning storm last week, Payette National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said.
On Thursday, Idaho had five large wildfires; three of those are Wildland Use Fires, meaning they are being allowed to burn for ecological benefit.
Wildland Use Fire are monitored, but not actively fought. Such fires restore the forest to its natural state by clearing out overgrown stands of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir trees, reduce risk to wildland firefighters and saves the U.S. Forest Service money.
Two of those fires are in the Payette National Forest.