Helicopters at Salmon, Idaho

Skycrane at Salmon ID
Helicopter 795, a Sikorsky Skycrane, at Salmon, Idaho, August 12, 2012. Wildfire Today photo.

Here is a sampling of some of the helicopters that were based at the Salmon, Idaho airport, working on wildfires in southern Idaho on Sunday, August 12, 2012.

Sikorsky S-61N Coulson-Billings Flying Service
Sikorsky S-61N, owned by Coulson Aviation, operated by Billings Flying Service. Wildfire Today photo
Bell 205A-1 at Salmon ID
Bell 205A-1 owned by Heligroup Fire. Wildfire Today photo


Idaho’s Minidoka Complex keeps scoopers busy

Beth Lund’s Type 1 team members and local officials met last night with community members at Howells Opera House in Oakley to discuss the Minidoka Complex. The Times-News reported that fielded questions included a discussion of restoring burned grazing allotments and the timeframe for lifting imposed evacuations.

Lund said the team is optimistic they can contain the fires within a couple days. She said the recent rains will help with suppression efforts. The Cave Canyon Fire, the largest in the complex, has grown by more than 34,000 acres in a day. She said it’s made repeated downhill runs at night.

Scott Nannenga with the Minidoka Ranger District told ranchers that burned grazing allotments will be rested, but that the fire’s effects will have longterm benefits. Other area officials told the crowd that plans are under way for post-fire rehab.

Lund said decisions are pending for the dates that evacuated residents can return to their homes. “We don’t want to let you back and then have to take you back out again,” she said.

The team reported last night that evacuations and extreme fire runs have prompted their requests for critical resources.

CL-215 on a run over Goose Creek Reservoir southwest of Oakley early afternoon on 08/11/2012.
One of Aero-Flite’s CL-215s on a run over Goose Creek Reservoir southwest of Oakley early afternoon on 08/11/2012. Photo © 2012 Jack Belk

Reservoirs both north and south of the fire were evaluated and approved for scooping runs by CL-215 aircraft, but that the lack of other ordered resources has resulted in fire growth in all directions. Containment objectives have been compromised by the lack of a Type 3 high performance helicopter.

CL-215 over Goose Creek Reservoir
One of Aero-Flite’s CL-215s on a run over Goose Creek Reservoir southwest of Oakley early afternoon on 08/11/2012. Photo © 2012 Jack Belk

The fires on the complex have burned with high intensity and have been extremely active, with running and torching in the conifer portions of the fires. Flamelengths have gone to 50 feet in some fuel types, with short-range spotting in all fuel types. Roads and natural barriers, fire managers said, can’t be relied upon to check the fire’s spread. The Cave Canyon Fire last night was at 80,012 acres, the Deer Hollow Fire was at 4,027 acres, the Eight Mile Fire was at 211 acres, and the Hot Well Fire was estimated at 8,056 acres.

Four CL-215s on the ramp at Kalispell 08/10/2012
Four CL-215s (two owned by Aero-Flite and two from the State of Minnesota operated by Aero-Flite) on the ramp 08/10 at Great Falls, Montana. The two Minnesota scoopers were headed for Moses Lake, and the Aero-Flite pair were en route to the Minidoka Complex. Photo © 2012 Tony Duprey

Halstead Fire grows to over 43,500 acres

The Halstead Complex is just 3 percent contained at more than 43,500 acres. It’s burning in a rugged area of the Salmon-Challis National Forest, with large expanses of beetle-killed trees. LocalNews8 reported that the fire in the Trail Creek area put up a large column of smoke visible from Stanley, and was spreading east toward the Valley Lakes area. Emergency crews evacuated the Bradley Memorial Boy Scout Camp, Lola Creek Campground, Lola Creek Spura A, Marsh Creek Trailhead, and Beaver Creek Campground.

Yesterday afternoon the Twin Falls County Sheriff announced that all access to the South Hills via Rock Creek Road or Indian Springs is closed, along with the Rockcreek Drainage east of Deadline Ridge. Access to Murtaugh Lake will be limited because aircraft are accessing the lake for suppression efforts. KMVT News reported that a weak trough passing to the north yesterday was expected to produce showers and dry thunderstorms, with warmer and drier weather over the weekend. KMVT.com has several good photos online from area residents.

A couple of new fires were reported on the Salmon-Challis; one was contained and the other, a half-acre fire on Sage Creek, had a Type 4 engine and crew from Salmon along with four rappellers assigned.

Helicopter crew on the Halstead Fire
Helicopter crew on the Halstead Fire

Crews are building control lines to protect the Boy Scout camp, private property, and the Highway 21 corridor. Fuels reduction work is under way near Loon Creek, and firefighters are assessing structure protection needs in the Bonanza and Yankee Fork areas.

The complex includes several fires; the Merino Fire is approximately 4 acres and burning in an old burn area on the ridge top near Indian Springs Guard Station. The Bench Fire is about 270 acres on the east side of Highway 21. The fire threw out several spot fires during the day and had a helicopter assigned. The Halstead Fire is moving toward Marsh Creek, with burning activity also in Valley Creek. The fire is still about 4 miles from Loon Creek.

Idaho fires short on resources

Wildfires across south-central Idaho kept firefighters busy yesterday, and officials are worried about the Minidoka Complex in Cassia County. They say a lack of resources has set back their efforts at containing the fires.

KMTV News reported that two of the fires on the Minidoka Complex burned actively yesterday, pushing total acreage to over 49,000 acres. A Red Flag Warning is in effect today for thunderstorms and gusty winds.

45,000-acre Cave Canyon Fire, Minidoka Complex
45,000-acre Cave Canyon Fire, Minidoka Complex

The Cave Canyon Fire is now at 45,021 acres after it made a 6-mile run yesterday morning. A DC-10 airtanker made numerous drops on the north side of the fire, and crews are building dozer line on the west and north.
DC-10 drops on Idaho fireThe Deer Hollow Fire burned actively and grew to over 4,000 acres. About 275 people are assigned to the complex, including personnel from Oakley, Burley, and Rock Creek Fire Protection Districts. The complex includes the Cave Canyon, Deer Hollow, Hot Well and Eightmile fires;  the Eightmile is contained at 211 acres. An information meeting is scheduled for 6:30 this evening at Howell’s Opera House in Oakley; Great Basin Incident Management Team 1 is managing the complex.

100,000 gallons and still growing

A wildfire burning in heavy timber 50 miles east of Boise continued to spread even after pilots dropped more than 100,000 gallons of retardant on it. Boise State Public Radio reported that the fire burned through retardant lines on Sunday — the Trinity Ridge Fire grew from 200 acres on Saturday to 1,300 acres Sunday; it is now at 1,800 acres.

Trinity Ridge Fire
Trinity Ridge Fire

The fire gained ground in spite of the 46 runs made by four C-130 MAFFS tankers operating out of Boise. Three SEATs also worked the fire over the weekend.

Dave Olson, incident information officer, said the fire took off Friday in sub-alpine fir and lodgepole, both prone to torching and throwing embers. He said the fire is suspected to be human-caused; firefighters found a burned utility terrain vehicle at the fire’s source. Investigators are seeking the owner of the vehicle.

Additional fire crews have arrived, and a Type 2 team has assumed command.

Yesterday, the fire burned aggressively in the mostly sub-alpine fir and lodgepole pine, with considerable torching and spotting. NWCN.com reported that fire managers say current conditions are much drier then they’d originally thought. “It’s actually drier this year than it was in 2006 and 2007,” said Olson.

Halstead Fire a long-term proposition

The Halstead Fire on the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned more 18,500 acres, but winds thus far have pushed the fire to the northeast away from the town of Stanley. Boise State Public Radio reported that firefighters are focused on keeping the fire away from Highway 21.

Fire managers say the Halstead Fire will probably burn till the area experiences a “season-ending event.” Bruce Palmer, information officer on the NIMO team managing the fire, says the fire’s burning in rough terrain. “It’s nasty country with a lot of bug kill and heavy fuels,” he says. “And fire behavior has been extreme. The Halstead Fire will be a long-term event and will likely burn until September or even October.”

Halstead Fire morning inversion 07/31
Halstead Fire morning inversion 07/31

Though the fire is in the wilderness, crews will continue active suppression to keep the fire out of the Middle Fork of the Salmon and other recreation areas. The NIMO team managing the fire brings a lot of flexibility to the assignment; agency administrators sometimes prefer the NIMO team because of its long-term staffing option. “We can draw from the four different teams,” explains Palmer, “so we offer continuity in incident management for a fire that may burn for weeks or even months.” The NIMO teams aren’t subject to the 14-day time-outs in the same way that’s required of other incident management teams, because they can stagger their rest days or days off to maintain continuity of the command for the duration of the incident.

Several ranches and a Boy Scout camp were recently threatened by the fire; the camp was evacuated, according to the Idaho Statesman. The fire’s at 21,915 acres today with 332 personnel assigned.