Burnout operation working in Idaho forest fire fight

BOISE, Idaho — A 187-square-mile wildfire threatening an evacuated central Idaho community made no significant runs Saturday, but three firefighters were injured when a large log rolled down a steep embankment into a crew battling the blaze, fire officials said.

Two of the firefighters were transported to Boise for medical treatment. One suffered a minor head injury, and the other had injuries to the back, neck and shoulders. All three are members of the Bonneville Hotshots, fire officials said.

They’re among more than 1,200 firefighters assigned to the Trinity Ridge Fire, which started Aug. 3 when a utility terrain vehicle caught fire. Fire spokesman Gary Lehnhausen said the vehicle’s owner has been identified, but no names have been released.

Lehnhausen said Saturday a burnout maneuver has so far been successful in reducing fuels between the blaze and the small town of Featherville, which was forced to evacuate a week ago.

A mile-long line of the burnout merged with the main fire sometime Saturday morning or Friday night a quarter-mile from the community, he said. About 350 homes are located in Featherville and the surrounding area.

“They had to wait for the fire to get close enough (to the town) so the big fire would be sucking oxygen to burn, and would pull our backburn operation to it,” Lehnhausen said. “It took a lot of time for the fire to move within that half-mile range of Featherville. It came off in textbook fashion the way it’s supposed to.”

He said the burnout in other areas has yet to merge with the main fire, and homes remain threatened. Twelve structures have been lost so far, including two U.S. Forest Service rental cabins.

The Trinity Ridge Fire is 5 percent contained and has cost about $18.9 million to fight.

The burnout started Wednesday with a helicopter setting fire to a ridge near the town by dropping thousands of small spheres that ignite the areas where they hit. The aerial ignition continued Thursday but not Friday because Lehnhausen said conditions weren’t right.

He said backburns are useful but if not done properly have the potential to become an uncontrolled wildfire themselves.

“It pretty much always works the way it’s supposed to,” he said. “When it’s gutsy is when you know conditions aren’t right, but your hand is forced.”

The fire grew 15 square miles overnight. In addition to personnel, there are 11 helicopters, 72 fire engines, 19 water tenders and two dozers assigned to the blaze.

Meanwhile, the Halstead Fire farther north grew about 4 square miles overnight to 157 square miles by Saturday morning. Officials said the fire burned past a line that firefighters have been trying to hold near a Forest Service Road, but aggressive firefighting combined with aircraft helped keep the blaze from spreading in that area.

Officials on Friday afternoon called in four military C-130s based in Boise to drop retardant and help firefighters prevent the fire from spreading east. About 550 personnel are assigned to the fire.

The blaze is burning about 18 miles northwest of the mountain town of Stanley, a recreation hub dependent on summer tourists. Stanley also was the site of Saturday’s Salmon Festival. Officials said State Highways 21 and 75 remained open to the town, and fire information officers were staffing a booth at the festival to answer questions.

On the Idaho-Montana border, an evacuation order remains in effect for residents who live near Spring Creek and Indian Creek where part of the 205-squre-mile Mustang Complex of fires is burning. Officials there say no structures have been lost in that fire.

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