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Ross Fork Fire Closes Galena Lodge, Fire Meeting Set for Ketchum
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Smoke billows from the Ross Fork Fire. PHOTO: Sawtooth National Forest
   
Saturday, September 10, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Galena Lodge closed for the summer season on Friday, citing the threat from the Ross Fork Fire currently burning at the bottom of Galena Pass.

Firefighters will have a fire information meeting at 5 tonight—Saturday, Sept. 10--in Ketchum’s Forest Service Park. The meeting will be livestreamed on the Sawtooth National Forest Facebook page.

Cooler temperatures and diminishing winds allowed firefighters to make progress on the fire on Friday  and they’re hopeful they can make major progress in corralling the fire in the coming days.

“Some of our firefighters reported it was 19 degrees in the morning, and it only got to 69 this afternoon,” said fire information officer Nathan Leising. “I know I got out of my sleeping bag and I was freezing. Take away the heat and wind, throw in cold nights and shorter days and that will make a huge difference.”

The Ross Fork Fire, started by lightning a month ago, grew to 35,601 acres as of Friday afternoon. It was 2 percent contained.

The winds pushed the fire to the southwest on Thursday into the Frenchman’s Creek area and across the Salmon River. More firefighters were sent to that area, looking for spot fires to keep the fire west of the river.

The Boise Hot Shots supported by fire engines conducted a strategic firebreak on Friday, thinning vegetation and using drip torches to blacken the land near the Alturas Creek Road and Highway 75. Their aim: to keep the fire south of the road.

The fire burned the trees down to Alturas Lake on the south side. Some areas burned intensely; some not so much.

“The north side of the fire from Alturas Lake should be looking pretty good by the end of the day,” said Leising. “We had wanted to do a lot of this yesterday but the winds were blowing 35 miles per hour creating extreme fire behavior.”

Crews continued to mop up, extinguishing hot spots around the community of Smiley Creek where they fought a fierce fight with embers rifling around over Labor Day Weekend.

Two cabins were burned there and one further out. But the trees in the area came through fairly unscathed, save for the periphery where the homes were burned.

Crews are also taking steps to defend area campgrounds should fire advanced towards them.

The scooper planes used to scoop water out of Alturas Lake were grounded until the inversion lifted in the evening Thursday night because pilots couldn’t see to fly.

“You could not even see the surrounding mountains it was so bad,” Leising said.

Some of the planes were diverted to a fast-moving fire in Jerome County but they will return, Leising promised. “It didn’t make any sense for us to keep them when we couldn’t use them because of the inversion,” he said. “And new fires take priority over older ones because we want to keep them small.”

Retardant can be used ahead of advancing flames to stop fire in its tracks, whereas water is used to douse flames. No retardant has been used on this fire because the chemicals could be detrimental to the salmon, Leising said.

“The recreation area works hard to keep the fisheries in good shape for the salmon so when we come in we work closely with them so what we do isn’t detrimental.”

As of Thursday, Galena Lodge was not immediately threatened, despite a small fire dubbed as the Cherry Creek fire that started near the lodge. That fire was contained and the cause is under investigation. Firefighters are protecting structures in the area, and sprinklers are wetting things down.

Currently 632 firefighters are assigned to the Ross Fork Fire. They hope to contain it by Oct. 31.

The weather forecast call for morning lows in the 20s in the valleys with humidity in the teens. Breezy weather in the next couple days could result in isolated torching. But widespread smoke locked into the valley will help suppress fire behavior.

A trough of low pressure is expected to bring the possibility of showers and thunderstorms by Monday night followed by wetting rains by the middle of the week.

“Fire thrives with three factors—fuel, heat and oxygen—so take away one or more of those and it will burn less intense,” said Leising.

The Blaine County Recreation District announced Friday afternoon that Galena Lodge had closed for the 2022 summer season, ahead of the season-ending Boulder Bicycle Tour on Sept. 18. The lodge plans to reopen for the winter on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

The BCRD is asking people to stay away from the Galena Lodge area, which is in SET evacuation stage. SET means residents there should be ready to go on a moment’s notice. The evacuation notice runs from a mile south of Galena Lodge to Galena Summit.

Jerome County declared a state of emergency on Friday due to a fast-moving five that burned more than 30,000 acres in 40 mile per hour winds. The fire, three miles north of Eden, is burning on BLM land and was determined to have been started by faulty equipment.

Officials feared the loss of livestock in the Eden 2 Fire. They hope to contain it at 8 p.m. tonight and control it by 8 p.m. Monday.

Smoke from that fire poured into Hailey and Bellevue on Friday, forcing Friedman Memorial Airport to turn on its lights in the middle of the afternoon.In Ketchum a thinner layer of smoke crcreated a hazy orange glow, augmented by occasional ash flakes falling from the sky.

Poor air quality caused the cancellation of Friday Night Lights football games in Boise and the Magic Valley.

A nearby Sheep Fire three miles north of Wendell has been contained at more than 10,000 acres.

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