Why Fighting Idaho's Elk Complex Is More Challenging Than Last Year's Trinity Ridge Wildfire

Aug 13, 2013

Firefighters start a back burn along the Pine-Featherville Road while battling the more than 90,000-acre Elk Fire Complex near Pine on Monday August 12, 2013.
Credit Ashley Smith / Twin Falls Times-News

The incident commander leading the fight against the Elk Complex wildfire near Pine and Featherville says he has a good mix of resources available to fight the fire, and that crews are doing the best they can to protect the towns.

Rich Harvey helped protect these towns from the Trinity Ridge Fire a year ago. He says this year's fire has been much more difficult to fight.

"This is not the Trinity Ridge fire all over again," he says. "The Elk fire is a much more aggressive fire than the Trinity Ridge [fire]. That fire was backing down towards the community. It was moving under an inversion. This fire is more of a wind-driven, plume-dominated fire. And it's moving much more aggressively than Trinity Ridge did."

Harvey says firefighters worked overnight on structure protection and will continue to do so Tuesday. He says winds are forecast to blow the fire toward established fire lines. Ultimately, Harvey hopes to steer the fire toward the burn scar from last year's fire, where fewer fuels exist.

The Elk Complex has now burned nearly 100,000 acres. It burned about 8,000 acres just on Monday and remains at 5 percent contained.

Meanwhile, the Pony Complex fire is 30 percent contained. It's burned 144,000 acres. The McCan and Beaver Creek fires - burning to the east of the Pony and Elk fires - have burned about 56,000 acres.

Lightning moved through parts of southern Idaho before dawn Tuesday. Forecasters say more storms could spark more wildfires throughout the day. A red flag warning will last through Tuesday evening in sections of the Sawtooth mountains, the Sawtooth National Forest, and the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

The manpower dedicated to fires already burning in southern and central Idaho continues to be significant. More than 1,600 people are assigned to the Elk Complex, Pony Complex, McCann and Beaver Creek fires.

Fire Meetings Tonight

Residents of the Ketchum and Fairfield areas will able to hear from fire managers Tuesday night on their efforts to control nearby fires.  The meeting in Ketchum tonight starts at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting in Fairfield starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Fairfield American Legion.

Fire Causes Power Problems

Idaho Power says the fires have destroyed parts of its electricity delivery system. The company says more than 600 residents in the Pine and Featherville areas have lost service. Crews are struggling to gain access to burned poles. The company says it has 30 workers in the area, and they're restoring power in areas fire managers say are safe to access.

Poor Air Quality For The Treasure Valley

In Boise, air quality is again expected to be poor Tuesday. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued an orange air quality alert, meaning air will be unhealthy for sensitive groups. The Department of Health and Welfare encourages residents to limit outdoor activity and to stay hydrated when outside. If your house smells smoky, the department says running your central air unit's fan all the time will help keep air inside the home filtered.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio