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Ross Fork Fire Jumps Highway 75 as It Moves East
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After a couple of windy days that hampered aerial support, firefighters were able to get aerial support back in the air over Alturas Lake. They have been scooping water out of Redfish Lake, providing a show for those boating and beaching at the lake. COURTESY: Sawtooth National Forest
   
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Ross Fork Fire, which exploded on Thursday has claimed at least two buildings near Smiley Creek. And Tuesday afternoon it jumped Highway 75 a half mile south of Smiley Creek and began running 200 yards up Pole Creek.

Firefighters said Tuesday afternoon they were still assessing the situation so they could not immediately say what kind of structures were destroyed. But those who have property in the area said two cabins were lost and the fire continues to threaten homes and cabins in the vicinity.

By midday Tuesday the fire had grown to cover 26,000 acres—up from 14,038 acres on Monday. It was  just 2 percent contained. It continued northeast down the Beaver Creek drainage towards Alturas Lake.

 
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The Powerline Fire near the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls closed Highway 93 for a couple hours. PHOTO: Marty Lyon
 

As of Tuesday evening, it was a mile south of Alturas Lake.

It also was butting up against the community of Smiley Creek and Highway 75.

Fire also spread to the east throughout the Frenchman Creek drainage, threatening the Salmon River headwaters just beyond the Galena Pass overlook as it burned through downed timber, timber and grass. It is near Highway 75 at the Frenchman Creek Road.

Crews worked Tuesday to provide structure protection for homes in Smiley Creek, including some which are people’s primary residences. Members of the Gila Hotshots and helicopters dropping water worked to keep the fire that jumped the highway from spreading to the north.

 
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Smoke from the Ross Fork Fire blanketed Ketchum Tuesday morning. A cold font moving into the area tonight will likely bring northwesterly winds in, bringing smoke from the Ross Fork Fire into the Wood River Valley late Wednesday through Thursday. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
 

Winds died down earlier than expected Tuesday, and that kept embers from spreading later in the day. Firefighters were predicting less active fire behavior on Tuesday due to lower temperatures. But, while winds ranged from 11 to 14 miles per hour with gusts to 15 on Tuesday, they are expected to gust to 23 miles per hour over the next couple days.

By the end of the week temperatures are expected to decrease to daytime temperatures in the 70s with night temperatures in the 30s and 40s.

The area has been very smoky in the mornings, with the fire activity increasing as the smoke lifts during midday.

A Type 2 team is scheduled to take over this morning, bringing additional resources to the fire which on Tuesday was being fought by 175 firefighters.

Firefighters are working in dense pockets of Douglas fir and subalpine fir—much of which is dead or fallen. The fire is running and spotting, fueled by winds.

Pettit Lake remains closed, as does Yellowbelly Lake, Pole Creek, the Upper Salmon River Headwaters and Frenchman Creek and Alturas Lake.

About 200 people were told to evacuate and sheriff’s deputies went into the woods trying to track down campers after the wildfire exploded over the three-day Labor Day Weekend amidst high winds and temperatures in the low 90s.

The fire was sparked by lightning on Aug. 14, and campers watched as a helicopter dropped water dampening the flames. But the fire continued to smolder and blew up on Thursday, eventually growing to 37 square miles.

“The fire was in very steep and inaccessible country,” said Julie Thomas, a public information officer for the Sawtooth National Forest. “It was not safe to put firefighters in so we utilized other forms to suppress the fire—helicopter and other aerial resources. We used to a drone to watch the fire so that, when it was deemed safe, we could utilize other methods to suppress it. Then, when conditions got so dry, it became active.”

While the sky was blue midway up Bald Mountain, smoke from the fire sank to the valley floor Tuesday morning obscuring views. Hailey and Ketchum experienced unhealthy air with air quality indexes of 189 and 191 respectively on a scale where 151 to 200 is deemed unhealthy. And Sun Valley’s air quality was rated 319—in the hazardous quality. That means even healthy people can experience serious health effects.

Smiley Creek’s air quality was off the charts at 1,152.

Highway 75 between Galena Lodge and the Blaine/Custer County line the other side of Smiley Creek  remained closed Tuesday night and will continue to stay closed to the public as long as fire is threatening the Smiley Creek area and highway, a fire information officer said.

A community meeting will be held at 6 tonight--Wednesday, Sept. 7--at the SNRA Ranger Station 2.5 miles south of Stanley. Officials will also provide updates about the fire on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84827036738. Meeting ID: 848 2703 6738 Passcode: 549497.

The rapidity with which fires have started in the past couple days would make a good case for no one leaving their home until the rain that normally hits the Sun Valley area the second week of September comes (hopefully).

An East Fork resident called in a report of smoke rising from a fire in the mountains near Pioneer Cabin Monday evening. A helicopter crew was able to attack it quickly and get it out.

Hailey resident Marty Lyon caught a picture of smoke bellowing from a fire that started between the Snake River Canyon and Interstate 84 about midday Tuesday. He was able to get out of the area just before Highway 93 was closed in that vicinity.

The highway was closed more than two hours as the Powerline fire spread 1,400 acres.

And the 8,853-acre Wildhorse Fire is burning on both sides of Highway 20 near Hill City. As of Tuesday evening, there were no road closures in the area

HELPING FIRE VICTIMS

St. Thomas Episcopal Church is joining in the effort to help those who lost homes in Saturday’s Limelight Condominiums fire. The church is encouraging those who would like to purchase gift cards for groceries or other goods from local businesses to bring them to St. Thomas.

The cards will be distributed to people affected by the fire tonight when volunteers give out Ketchum Community dinners curbside from 5 to 6 p.m. And they will also be distributed through the Ketchum Fire Department, which is helping to coordinate donations.

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