HAILEY, Idaho -- A playground for some and home to many, the Wood River Valley is on edge as a massive fire burns dangerously close to homes, stretching fire crews and keeping officials hopping.
Red Flag conditions, including higher temperatures and wind gusts up to 38 miles per hour, increased fire activity on the Beaver Creek Fire Sunday afternoon and evening. And crews expect similar conditions on Monday.
The fire has burned 158 square miles, and has forced 2,250 homes into a mandatory evacuation order (full list of areas below). Another 7700 homes are under what is known as pre-evacuation, giving them time to pack up essential belongings and get ready to go at a moment's notice if the fire grows closer. A total of nearly 10,000 homes are impacted by the massive fire that a public information officer termed "a beast."
Throughout Friday and early Saturday, the fire blew up, with very low humidity, winds and hot temperatures making efforts to protect lives and homes difficult. However, Saturday night, cloud cover and an increase in humidity provided a break for firefighters looking to contain the fire along Highway 75 and protect homes on the east flank and north end of the blaze. However, on Sunday, the dry, windy conditions returned, bringing with it more activity to the fire.
The fire started last week -- and so far has destroyed five structures including one home, but none since Friday.
The large, unpredictable fire is burning through both sage and pine trees toward the resort areas of Hailey, Ketchum. The area, known around the world as Sun Valley is anything but sunny -- socked in by a thick layer of soot and ash.
More than 1,100 state and federal firefighters were dispatched to the blaze in the affluent resort region. Crews from around the state and across the nation are working together to battle the nation's number one fire priority.
PROGRESS ON THE FIRE
Fire managers are expressing optimism in their battle against the Beaver Creek Fire.
Officials said Sunday the fire grew only about 12 square miles because of cloud cover the day before and the arrival of additional firefighters.
The fire is now 9 percent contained.
Fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman says nearly 90 fire engines are in the region, many protecting structures.
The Blaine County Sheriff's Office announced Sunday that the Indian Creek area may return to pre-evacuation status on Monday. However, Sheriff's spokeswoman Holly Carter warned that the Beaver Creek Fire still poses a serious threat to Blaine County residents and said that Indian Creek and the Valley Club remain under mandatory evacuation orders. Residents will be notified if and when it is safe for residents to return to their homes, Carter said.
According the sheriff's office, if all goes as planned, residents will be allowed to return via the north end of Buttercup starting 9 a.m. Monday, August 19. This does not include Ohio Gulch and the Heatherlands.
Residents of the Valley Club will be allowed to return via the north end of Buttercup starting at 10 a.m. Monday.
Again, residents will be notified if and when it is safe to return home. The sheriff's office stressed that those areas will remain on pre-evacuation notice and residents should be prepared to leave again should conditions change.
NATIONAL GUARD ARRIVES
About 20 Idaho National Guardsmen arrived in Hailey Sunday to assist sheriff's deputies with road blocks.
Lt. Richard Wilson said the guard also will be helping out by doing a roving patrol that will supplement the sheriff's office.
"We're a force that's always ready," said Wilson. "We're designed to go into austere locations and we're trained to survive. We have all that stuff lined up for us so it makes it easy for us to help out in those situations."
Wilson says this is an opportunity for them to help other Idahoans. "We've got a couple people that currently are stationed up here and live up here, so they're definitely helping out their neighbors."
SATURDAY COMMUNITY MEETING
A 3 p.m. community meeting was held at the Wood River Performing Arts auditorium on Saturday to brief the public on the ever-growing Beaver Creek fire.
It was a packed house at the community meeting. The auditorium’s capacity is 489, and there were people sitting on the floor, standing in the back and standing in aisles.
"Out in Deer Creek and Green Horn, we got our butts kicked," said Blaine County Fire Chief Bart Lassman.
Crews were woken up at 2:30 a.m. to help do structure protection as the fire raged.
All vacations have been canceled and crews are working 12-hour on, 12-hour off shifts to cover everything. The Idaho National Guard has been called up and will arrive within 48 hours to assist with a number of tasks. In addition, 12 hot shot crews are helping work the fire. Firefighters who were previously on the McCan Fire are now in Blaine County.
Incident Commander Beth Lund said there are multiple new fires around the county, but that they are still getting new resources all the time on the Beaver Creek Fire.
Lund said the fire has really been kicking up in the later hours of the night. She said it really starts to get active around 3 p.m., and continues until 10 p.m. or even as late as midnight before it lies down again.
For now, Lund said the Beaver Creek is still holding at the Castle Rock Fire scar left in 2007.
Officials also used the meeting to talk about new evacuation orders that came in on Saturday afternoon.
“Be prepared. Wherever you live in the Wood River Valley, at least between Hailey and Ketchum or Ketchum North, be prepared, because this fire grew 30,000 acres yesterday,” said Traci Weaver, information officer for the fire. ”It's a beast, and so just be prepared. If they tell you to evacuate, go.”
Weaver told the crowd that their homes were not worth their lives, and told them not to try and be heroes.
A huge crew of structure protection engines have been added to Saturday’s firefight. There are 40 engines, each with three to five people. Ten more engines are expected to arrive on Sunday.
Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said the structure protection crews are eager to get out there, and that he had to ask them to go get rest.
Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey was also at the meeting. He thanked the public for their cooperation with the evacuations, and said he is doing everything he can not to have to evacuate folks.
FIRE EXPANDED FRIDAY
Fire officials said Friday high, gusty winds, low humidity and tinder-dry vegetation created unstable conditions surrounding the 145-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire. The fire grew over 30,000 acres on Friday. As of Saturday, fire was only 6 percent contained.
On Friday evening, Governor Butch Otter issued a disaster declaration, and has assigned the Idaho National Guard to provide support to the Beaver Creek Fire. The National Guard will assist with road closures in the area.
In addition, private insurers have sent in their own crews to provide structural protection for homes with values that can reach tens of millions of dollars, Nickel said.
EVACUATION, PRE-EVACUATION ORDERS
The Blaine County Sheriff's Office says the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley are under pre-evacuation orders due to Beaver Creek Fire. The area of impact stretches from Indian Creek to North Fork on both sides of Highway 75, including Warm Springs, Croy Creek and the two resort towns.
Officials say due to the serious circumstances of the fire and unpredictable nature of wind and fire patterns, they are urging people to avoid non-essential travel on Highway 75, especially if you are heading north. They are urging people to stay away.
Also, if you live in the North Valley and south then you should make preparations to return to your homes and families as soon as possible.
Emergency managers are asking the public limit the use of their cell phones so that essential services can continue in the area.
FOR THOSE WHO LIVE IN MANDATORY EVACUATION AREAS
Take your essentials belongings and pet and go now:
- North of Ketchum - Glassford Heights north to SNRA on both sides of Highway 75; including Fox Creek, Eagle Creek, Chocolate Gulch and North Fork Trailer Park
- Ohio Gulch
- Indian Creek
- Greenhorn Gulch, Golden Eagle, and Timber Gulch south down to Treasure Lane west of Highway 75
- Treasure Lane south to McKercher Blvd., INCLUDING Aspen Lakes, west of Highway 75 (does not include Northridge)
- Croy Creek from Big Wood Bridge West
- Zinc Spur to Treasure Lane, west side of Highway 75
- Baker Creek, west side of Highway 75 south to North Fork INCLUDING Easley
- East Fork
- Timber Gulch south to Treasure Lane, west of Highway 75
- Deer Creek from the Big Wood Bridge west
- North of East Fork to hospital bridge on both sides of Highway 75, INCLUDING Broadway Run and Gimlet
Residents are encouraged to evacuate south
- If you are physically unable to evacuate call 911
- All services to these areas will be discontinued
- You will not be allowed to re-enter the area until the danger has passed.
- Lake Creek area north of Ketchum
- Sun Valley
- Warm Springs area
- North of 75 along both sides of Highway 75 to SNRA
- West of River Street, including Queen of the Hills Drive, Sherwood Forest and all Della View subdivision
Residents in Pre-Evacuation areas are strongly encouraged to initiate evacuation procedures at this time to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 75.
Begin preparations now so that you can leave immediately if conditions deteriorate. If you are in danger, do not wait for a evacuation order.
Residents with no means of transportation or who are physically unable to evacuate on their own, should ask a neighbor or call (208) 578-3831. Residents can also sign up for the Blaine County Emergency Alert system here. Services to your area may be discontinued during this time.
Be aware that officers are unable to go door-to-door for pre-evacuation notifications as their resources are tied up with mandatory evacuations.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Community Campus for residents displaced by the fire. For shelter information please call Johnnie Sue at 208-705-3575.
GAS COMPANY SHUT OFFS
Intermountain Gas Company has shut down its natural gas system in the Deer Creek Road area northwest of Hailey as a safety precaution due to the wildfires. Crews are standing by and could perform more shutdowns in the area if the fire situation worsens.
Currently, 400 gas customers in the areas west of Highway 75 from Deer Creek Road, northwest of Hailey, northward to Owl Rock Road, and just south of the St. Luke's Wood River facility will remain off until the evacuated residents are allowed to return. Fire officials say it will probably be late next week before residents are allowed back in their homes.
View 8.17.13 Beaver Creek Fire in a larger map