Fires blacken central Idaho, turn skies to smoky haze

Wildfires shrouded much of south-central Idaho in a blanket of smoke this week as crews battle nine blazes, the largest two of which could become one. Most of the region north of U.S. 20, between Idaho 55 and the Sun Valley area, was under a red flag warning Wednesday.

ITD joined fire managers and Elmore County law enforcement officials to create a traffic control plan for fire-related activity this week. District 4 crews provided portable message signs next to Idaho 75, and flight crews and aircraft were put on standby if requested by State Communications.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise reported nine uncontained fires in Idaho, making it a hotbed of firefighting activity in the West. The two highest priorities in the nation are Idaho’s two largest fires.

The Pony Complex, 12 miles northwest of Mountain Home, is the largest blaze, burning nearly 148,000 acres of timber, brush and grass on Bureau of Land Management land. Wednesday it was 50 percent contained.

Another central Idaho blaze, the Elk Fire was estimated to be at more than 112,000 acres, burning about 10 miles southwest of Pine in the Boise National Forest. Fire activity was characterized as “extreme,” with warming temperatures, dry conditions and no precipitation expected. Fire officials report containment at only 25 percent.

A third fire continues to expand rapidly and is commanding increased suppression efforts. The Beaver Creek fire, on BLM land in the Twin Falls District 12 miles northeast of Fairfield, is only 11 percent contained at 38,739 acres.

Residents of the Featherville and surrounding areas were evacuated Tuesday night. Fire consumed some structures, damaged or destroyed power poles and lines and left local residents without electricity.

The Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality alert for the Ada and Canyon counties and cities within them. Conditions that were “orange” early in the week improved to “yellow” on Thursday and deteriorated to orange again today (Friday, Aug. 16). An outdoor burning ban remains in effect. A purple advisory, meaning air quality is "very unhealthy" for sensitive groups, was issued for the Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley areas. Only one air quality category is worse -- maroon, which means "hazardous" conditions.

A cold front could bring gusty winds to the area this weekend, which would complicate firefighting efforts.

Published 8-16-13