Pioneer Fire spreads north across Highway 21 near Lowman, Idaho

Above: A burnout operation near Lowman, Idaho on the Pioneer Fire, August 5, 2016. USFS photo.

(UPDATED at 11 a.m. MDT August 6, 2016)

The Pioneer Fire at Lowman, Idaho, 32 air miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, continued to spread up the steep slopes after it crossed highway 17 Friday afternoon pushed by thunderstorm-generated winds gusting up to 35 mph. Spot fires initially occurred over the roadway west of the burnout firefighters were conducting near Lowman to protect the community. By 2 a.m. aerial mapping showed the fire had spread about 1.2 miles north of the highway and consumed an additional 1,200 acres.

On Friday the fire grew by about 6,700 acres, to 58,136 acres.

The video below of firefighters working along Highway 21 was posted by the incident management team on August 5.


3-d map Pioneer Fire
3-D map of the Pioneer Fire looking southwest. The white line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT August 4. The red line was the perimeter at 2 a.m. August 6. Click to enlarge.

The incident management team’s plans for Saturday, in part:

Crews will look for opportunities to bring dozer line north from Burns Ridge down to the river west of the fire in an effort to create a new containment line. North of the river the fire is established in steep slopes with light grassy fuels. Aircraft this morning will survey the fire west and north of Lowman looking for suitable places to build containment lines. The possibility of another thunderstorm today or tomorrow brings potential for stronger wind gusts, which could create more extreme fire behavior.


Originally published at 9:02 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016

A strong south wind added to the complexity of the burnout being carried out since Thursday by firefighters in an effort to stop the Pioneer Fire from impacting the community of Lowman, Idaho and crossing Highway 21. Sustained winds at 20 mph with gusts of 28 to 40 mph pushed the blaze across the highway Friday, significantly increasing the workload now laid out before the incident management team.

map Pioneer Fire 3-d
3-D map of the Pioneer Fire looking west. The red line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016. The red dots north of the fire represent heat detected by a satellite at 3 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016. The red arrows depict the fire spread on Friday afternoon. Click to enlarge.

Evacuations have been ordered by the Boise County Sheriff’s Office for some areas near the Payette River, and Highway 17 is closed. The fire is 32 air miles northeast of Boise, Idaho.

The 52,000-acre fire is being fought by 1,489 personnel, 43 hand crews, 52 engines, and 10 helicopters. Five structures have been destroyed.

map Pioneer Fire
The white line was the perimeter of the Pioneer Fire at 11 p.m. MDT on July 28. The red line was the perimeter at 7 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016. The red dots north of the fire represent heat detected by a satellite at 3 p.m. MDT August 5, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The incident management team running the fire led by Beth Lund is about to time out, so a replacement has been ordered which will inbrief at 9 a.m. on August 8.

Drones briefly halt air operations over Pioneer fire

Helicopter Pioneer Fire

(Updated 4:35 p.m. MDT, July 31, 2016)

Drones shut down air operations over the Pioneer fire for 45 minutes on Sunday, while the fire continued to spread due to erratic weather conditions.

In a post on InciWeb, the incident management team said the drone incursion came at a critical time for firefighters.

Aviation operations once again stopped for 45 minutes during a critical period of fire suppression due to an unmanned aircraft incursion. IF YOU FLY WE CAN’T. PLEASE DO NOT FLY DRONES IN OR NEAR THE FIRE AREA.

Such a delay seems to have become common place on many fires, and last week incident management teams in California and Montana reported halting air operations due to drones in the area.

A spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center has urged people not to flying drones into wildfire areas, and has said that people caught flying drones in wildfire zones could face criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer fire has burned 27,271 acres and is 27 percent contained.


Crews on the 18,933-acre Pioneer fire north of Idaho City are facing a weekend of windy weather, which will likely fan the flames of a fire that has been burning since July 18.

Here’s the outlook for Sunday’s weather:

A passing cold front this evening may produce thunderstorms with gusty, erratic winds and increased fire behavior.Smoke will likely again be visible from great distances.

Crews are also grappling with poor access, steep terrain, dry forests and old mining sites, according to posts on InciWeb.

On Friday, heavy smoke from the fire drifted east and triggered warnings for unhealthy levels of smoke pollution. Smoke from the Pioneer fire was also drifting into Northern Colorado.

Saturday’s outlook in Idaho, however, predicted normal air quality, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

Comet Fire burns hundreds of acres north of Salmon, Idaho

Above: Comet Fire, July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The heli-rappellers at the Salmon, Idaho airport saw the lightning strike on July 26 that caused the Comet fire 12 miles north of the town. So far it has burned 356 acres above the Salmon River near Highway 93.

map Comet Fire
Map showing the location of the Comet Fire 12 miles north of Salmon, Idaho, July 28 , 2016.

The fire is being fought by four helicopters, seven engines, one Type 2 initial attack 22 person crew, one Hotshot crew, four heli-rappellers, and four smokejumpers.

Comet Fire
The Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho. Photo by Bill Gabbert. Click to enlarge.
Comet Fire K-Max
A K-MAX helicopter drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert. Click to enlarge.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell talks about recovery at the Soda Fire

Secretary Jewell discusses the rehab of the Soda Fire and the illegal occupation of a National Wildlife Refuge.

In an interview with Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell talked about the rehabilitation of the Soda Fire that burned 279,000 acres in Oregon and Idaho southwest of Boise last August. She addressed some of the criticism about the rehab strategy and also talked about the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and its effect on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees.

Map Soda Fire
Map of the Soda Fire (red line) at 9 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The brown and red dots represent heat detected by a satellite as late as 10:05 p.m. MT, August 14, 2015. The fire was actively spreading near the location of the red dots at that time — the red dots were the most current. (click to enlarge)

1942 typewritten account of the 1910 Big Burn Fires uncovered

Britt Rosso of the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center discovered a 23-page typewritten account of some of the stories from the 1910 Big Burn fires that blackened huge areas of Idaho and Montana — the fires that changed the course of fire management in the United States.

Mr. Rosso describes his find:

As I was digging through some boxes at work, I came across a hard copy of this report on the 1910 fires. It was written in 1942 by Elers Koch, who was the Forest Supervisor on the Lolo NF in 1910. He created this 1910 fire summary so history would not be forgotten. It’s now posted on our LLC web site.

There are some amazing stories in here, and there are also reports from seven different fire crews on how they dealt with the “Great Fire”. There is a crew story in here about “burning off a large area…thinking that they would have absolute protection”. Maybe Wag Dodge wasn’t the first FF to ever use an escape fire.

Take your time and read it slowly.

Since documents at the Lessons Learned Center are known to be moved around and become difficult to find, we stashed a copy here for our readers.

One of the stories features the 30-person Moose Creek Crew led by Deputy Supervisor Ed Thenon, who wrote the account. (It is not clear what Forest Mr. Thenon was from.) They were working on a fire in Idaho in the upper Selway River area near Moose Creek. The sleeping crew, which was in an unburned area not near the fire edge, was aroused at 10 p.m. by debris falling in their area. Soon what one of the men thought was a “falling star” landed nearby and started a spot fire. When they could see the fire approaching they moved their camp and their food, or “grub”, to a small six-foot wide sand bar, or strip, in a creek that had water six to eight inches deep. Mr. Thenon told the men to lie in the creek and put wet blankets over their heads. Wet blankets were also put on their horses.

Below is a brief excerpt from his account. Click on it to see a larger version:

1910 Fires excerpt

Even though two men ran off and took refuge in another area, all 30 of them survived. However “the ‘lullaby boy’ was taken to an asylum”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike.