Cool weather, additional crews help firefighters battle the Beaver Creek blaze
Credit: David Ferrara
HAILEY, Idaho (AP) -- Fire managers are expressing optimism in their battle against a wildfire that has scorched nearly 160 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,300 homes near two central Idaho resort communities.
Officials said Sunday, the fire near Ketchum and Sun Valley grew only about twelve square miles because of cloud cover.
More than 1,200 people are now assigned to the Beaver Creek Fire, which is nine percent contained.
Fire managers say both of the nation's DC-10 jet retardant bombers have been used, but one experienced an engine malfunction after a drop Thursday. The jet made it back safely to Pocatello in southeastern Idaho but remains unavailable.
Fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman says nearly 90 fire engines are in the region, many protecting structures.
Lightning ignited the blaze Aug. 7. Fire officials estimated it grew to 144 square miles Friday night, fed by dry timber and underbrush. But they expect a more accurate size assessment after a plane with infrared cameras flies over the burn Saturday night.
More than 700 firefighters have been deployed to the mountains west of this affluent region, where celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways.
Five more hotshot crews arrived Saturday, and more will continue focusing on protecting homes in a sparsely populated county.
"It was a good day from the standpoint that we had no injuries, no lives lost, and no homes and property burned," fire spokeswoman Lucie Bond said. "Firefighters have been going house-to-house to decrease the risk. We're simply not going to leave homes unprotected."
The Beaver Creek Fire is the nation's top-priority wildfire, in part because it's burning so close to homes and subdivisions. Early Saturday, the firefight was hampered by thick smoke that engulfed Hailey, a town with 7,900 inhabitants, fourteen miles south of Ketchum, home of the Sun Valley Ski Resort.
Smoke stretching across the tight Big Wood River Valley also grounded the air attack on the blaze, putting more pressure on fire crews building fire lines on the ground. But by midday, the smoke cleared enough to scramble helicopters that targeted fires burning in the mountains and foothills that shoulder Hailey and north to Ketchum.
"This fire is consuming everything," fire spokeswoman Madonna Lengerich said. "The fire is so hot, it's just cremating even the biggest trees."
Ketchum, with a population of 2,700, and Sun Valley, with 1,400 people, were under "pre-evacuation orders” -- with authorities telling residents to be ready to leave if necessary. Many in those towns heeded the advice as the exodus heading south on Highway 75 continued to slow traffic through the valley.
Ketchum's retail and dining districts, normally buzzing this time of year with tourists and summer residents, resembled a ghost town. Dozens of retail shops, bars, outdoor cafes and restaurants on the town's main street closed their doors Saturday. Even The Casino, the city's oldest bar, closed its doors to the surprise of residents. The Casino was established in 1936.
"I've never seen it like this," said Dale Byington, general manager and 23-year veteran of The Sawtooth Club. The business was one of a handful of restaurants open on or near Main Street, but it closed early Saturday because of a lack of business.
"The only reason I opened was to give people here a place to go and get some food and drink, but that's not going to happen," Byington said.
(photo: courtesy inciweb.org)