Since Tuesday, residents of the small towns of Featherville and Pine gather together each evening to talk about the Trinity Ridge Fire, burning near their homes. At these meetings, fire officials provide status updates on the 72-thousand acre blaze.
These meetings help prepare residents for potential evacuations. They talk about what’s important to pack, as well as how to use defensible land around their homes. Officials recommend raking up pine needles and removing wood piles.
A thick smoke that's hovered over the Pine and Featherville areas for days now, lifted somewhat today giving fire crews and residents a break. But that smoke acted like a blanket, keeping the fire quiet. Now that blaze is knocking at Featherville's door. Mary Christensen is a fire information officer. She talks in absolutes. It's not a matter of "if" but "when" this 90,664 acre fires moves through Featherville.
This time of year is typically the busiest for the Boise Airport. Commercial flights compete with air tankers being used to fight wildfires to get off the ground. And with the thick smoke around Boise, air traffic controllers have to take extra steps to keep flights safe.
Gordon Stewart manages Boise Airport’s Air Traffic Control. Lately, that room has been crazy.
“Overall, it’s kind of a balancing act and I think that, by and large, we make it work,” Stewart says.
Cars are stopped and asked to wait for a pilot car to lead them through Banner Summit on Highway 21. Officials urge drivers to be careful while traveling along these roads as there is heavy fire traffic and low visibility at times from the smoke.
Large wildfires continue to burn in Western states including in California, Oregon and Idaho. Hot temperatures and high winds have made fighting these fires tough.
It’s been especially tough for crews working on a wildfire burning 18 miles Northwest of Stanley. The fire, which has been burning since late July, picked up steam. And Tuesday night evacuation notices went out to people living along Highway 75 between what’s called Joe’s Gulch and the small community of Sunbeam. Evacuations have not been ordered for Lower Stanley.
The U.S. Forest Service has identified a firefighter killed in Idaho on Sunday as 20-year-old Anne Veseth of Moscow, Idaho. She was struck by a falling tree at the Steep Corner Fire southeast of Coeur d’Alene. Firefighting deaths fluctuate from year to year, but the biggest source of that danger has shifted.
An official with Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality says the Treasure Valley is experiencing the worst air quality since a bad winter inversion in 2002. Smoke from wildfires around the region have kept the air quality index between 101 and 150 for several days. That’s the orange category.
Because of the smoke-filled skies in large portions of southern and central Idaho, the Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Stage 1 air quality advisory. That means open burning is prohibited in the region.
Here's the press release issued by DEQ and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare:
Idaho Highway 55 near Banks is back open without restrictions. The Idaho Transportation Department urges drivers to use caution and watch for falling rock. The road, between Gardena and Smith Ferry (milepost 75-97) re-opened this afternoon.
Several fires are burning around the state. Here is a roundup of the five largest wildfires right now.
The Flat Top 2 Fire: Easily the biggest fire burning in Idaho right now. Flat Top has consumed 135,000 acres of grass and brush. It's burning ten miles north of Kimama, northeast of Twin Falls. The fire was sparked by lightning on August 5. Eighty-nine firefighters are on the blaze , which is 40 percent contained.
The Halstead Fire near Stanley has already burned more than 34,000 acres. Many trees that have burned had already been killed by pine beetles.
Pine beetles have emerged as a serious problem for firefighters in the last decade. Russ Parsons works at the Forest Service’s Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana. He says warmer winters and denser forests have contributed to the spread of beetles.
It’s been a busy afternoon and evening for firefighters in southwestern Idaho. Several new fires have threatened structures in the region. It’s not clear if any have actually burned.
A brush fire has spread quickly near Pole Gulch north of Blacks Creek southeast of Boise. It started late this afternoon and is burning grass and sage. The Bureau of Land Management says it has ordered two 20-person crews to the site, as well as four engines, two dozers and aerial support. The fire is south of Lucky Peak. At 7:30 PM, the BLM estimated the size of the Pole Fire to be 700 acres.
Update: Saturday, August 4 The Halstead Fire is at more than 21,900 acres burning about 18 miles Northwest of Stanley. More than 330 people are now working on this lightning caused fire. It continues to burn through conifer forests and is moving through beetle killed trees.