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Ross Creek Fire Attack Hampered by Firefighter’s Injury
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The Blaine County Sheriff posted this picture of the Ross Fork Fire.
   
Sunday, September 11, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

A smokejumper’s broken ankle forced the Forest Service to reassess how they were going to attack the Ross Fork Fire in the early days of the fire.

“When the fire started, we had seven jumpers jump into the fire, but one of the smokejumpers hurt his ankle and we had to focus then on evacuating him,” said Bobbi Filbert, the deputy area ranger at Stanley Ranger Station. “Where the fire started was three to four hours from Fairfield, and you needed an ATV for the last hour getting in there.

“We have what’s called the Golden Hour—when a firefighter gets hurt, we want to get them out within an hour. When it takes longer, we have to consider how many young women and men we are going to commit to a fire that’s so remote. When we realized it’s going to be four hours, we had to build a different plan.”

 
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This shows the current perimeter of the Ross Fork Fire.
 

The Ross Fork Fire started Aug. 14 in an area closer to the town of Atlanta than Smiley Creek. Since, it has grown to 35,699 acres--up 1,200 acres from Friday to Saturday, taking out three cabins in and near Smiley Creek and burning trees on the south side of Alturas Lake.

At 35,699 acres it is approaching the acreage of the 2007 Castle Rock Fire, which burned 48,520 acres of the Smoky Mountain backcountry in 20 days. The 2013 Beaver Creek Fire, by contrast, burned 114,900 acres of the Sawtooth National Forest near Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Currently, the Ross Fork Fire is about 21 miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley as the crow flies. It’s 2 percent contained—and that’s in the area where the fire started where firefighters have gone in with Pulaskis and made sure hot spots were cool to touch.

Filbert said that firefighters continued to battle the Ross Fork Fire even after they pulled ground troops out with an air attack dropping water. But extreme weather conditions, including record heat in the lower 90s and Red Flag-type winds gusting to 30 and 40 miles per hour, caused it to explode over Labor Day Weekend.

 
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The green portions reflect the early days of the fire through Aug. 25 when it was increasing by about a hundred acres a day or less. The yellow-colored terrain reflects through Sept. 3 when it was increasing by about a thousand acres a day to 5,460 acre on Sept. 3. The the darker orange and red colors represent when it exploded 10,000 acres overnight on Sept. 4 and its latest expansion. Since Sept. 5, it has expanded about 3,000 and 4,000 acres a day.
 

“What we did was effective until it wasn’t effective,” she said, referring to the weather conditions that pushed the fire to the extreme. “Water from the sky won’t put a fire out. You need feet on the ground to stir it around and turn the soil over to make sure the hot spots are gone. We had six days of incredible fire weather and it took off.”

Those working the Ross Creek Fire told a hundred people gathered at a community meeting in Ketchum’s Forest Service Park Saturday night that the nation is currently at planning level four in terms of the sheer number of fires being fought across the West.

That means resources are at a premium. But the Ross Fork Fire has all the resources it needs, with a Type 2 Management Team in place and 692 firefighters working the fire.

“We’re using all the tools available to us to get the best success we can,” said Incident Commander Marty Adell. “A lot of fire remains in the landscape, but firefighters are doing a lot of good work.”

 
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The lower left corner is where the Ross Fork Fire started.
 

Firefighters expect the fire to advance to the northeast in the direction of Horton Peak if it expands today, based on the wind forecast.

Firefighters on Saturday took care of eight to 10 spot fires in the Frenchman’s Creek area beneath Galena Summit and everything is holding well there, Adell said. They also did a second day of backburning along Alturas Creek Road to reduce fuel in that area.

“The key thing is to do it under conditions that will not cause further issues,” Adell. “We do it on our terms more than Mother Nature’s Terms.”

Firefighters have 10 helicopters available but they haven’t been able to fly much the past few days due to smoke and windy conditions. Firefighters hope that will change today as wind abates.

 
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Incident Commander Marty Adell, who lives in Boise, addressed a small crowd Saturday night at Ketchum’s Forest Service Park.
 

Four scooper planes are making the rounds when they can. They take the length of Redfish Lake as they scoop 1,600 gallons in a minute’s time. They fly in formation, making a quick turnaround.

“We are asking people up there to stay close to the shore and out of the way because they’ve been a great asset to us to put out the fire,” said Filbert.

The Blaine County Sheriff issued a SET evacuation for Galena Lodge on Thursday, meaning residents there should be ready to go at a moment’s notice, because of the erratic fire behavior in the Salmon River headwaters area.

Firefighters plan to surround the lodge with hoses. They’re doing the same for the Pole Creek Guard Station and Camp Perkins where they are removing trees around the camp and laying hundreds of thousands of feet for sprinklers to raise the moisture and humidity level. Even if firefighters have to leave one of those areas for their safety, they will still be able to pump water into those areas.

Blaine County Sheriff officers also spent Saturday, warning cabin owners as far south as Easley that they should be ready to go if the fire heads up the steep, timber-covered slopes at Galena Summit.

All Forest Service roads in the Galena area are closed now, but the Prairie Creek and Baker Creek areas remain open for hikers, bikers and horsemen.

The highway is currently open but that can change at any minutes to protect firefighters should the smoke get too thick to see firetrucks driving on it or should the fire jump the highway. Those who have cabins in the Smiley Creek area or other nearby areas are asked to stay away because it could compromise the work firefighters are doing.

“We’re asking a little more patience from those who have cabins in the area,” said Adell.

Filbert announced that Stage 1 fire restrictions go into effect today—Sunday, Sept. 11—for the Sawtooth National Forest in Blaine, Camas and portions of Custer, Elmore and Boise counties. That means no campfires except for those in designated campgrounds with metal fire rings.

The decision to implement such restrictions is the subject of review from about mid-summer on, she said, and is based on fuel moisture. Campfires are allowed in campgrounds where campground hosts can make sure someone doesn’t abandon a still-burning fire.

An investigation is being done on the 50-by-50-foot Cherry Creek Fire that was found Friday near the Pioneer Cemetery near Galena Lodge. It is believed to be human caused.

 Firefighters see favorable conditions moving forward including lighter winds, lower temperatures and rain that could begin as early as Monday night.

With a challenging week of weather behind her, Filbert is looking forward to that.

“Any moisture would be welcome,” she said.

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