Valley Road Fire plume, Thursday, 3:56 p.m., Sept.
8, 2005. The fire is burning Fourth of July Canyon, Pass Creek, Fisher
Creek, Pigtail Creek and approaching Warm Springs Meadow. Copyright
photo: Lynne Stone, Boulder-White Clouds Council.
The Valley Road fire began Sept. 3 in the Sawtooth Valley 15 miles south
of Stanley. Snow and rain on Sept. 10 helped bring containment to the
fire, after burning over 40,800 acres. It started from a ranch trash
barrel on a windy Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend.
During the first week, over 1000 fire fighters and support personnel were
on the blaze, along with various numbers of tanker trucks, helicopters,
small planes and retardant bombers.
At times, the fire’s huge mushroom-shaped plume, reportedly reached 35,000
feet and was visible in Twin Falls 150 miles away.
On Friday, Sept. 9, the fire made its biggest run, driven by 50 mph winds,
and burning several miles down Warm Springs canyon to within three miles
of Highway 75 and the Salmon River. In mid-afternoon, the wind shifted,
stopping the fire from reaching the river and saving singer Carole King’s
Robinson Bar Ranch at the mouth of Warm Springs canyon from going up in
Highway 75 was closed Friday from Stanley to Slate Creek and residents
evacuated. The Salmon River canyon was full of smoke and the sky had
turned an eerie red. The highway reopened Friday night once the fire
veered to the east. The snow and rain that fell was the first major
precipitation in the area since early July.
Bomber drops retardant on slope above Fisher Creek.
Copyright 2005 Boulder-White Clouds Council.
Currently about 100 firefighters and others are still here, monitoring and
working on hot spots. Only the snows of winter will extinguish all the
“CATASTROPHE WAITING TO HAPPEN” - Tim Sexton, Incident Commander of the
Valley Road fire was quoted in the Challis Messenger on Sept. 15: “The Sawtooth Valley is still "a catastrophe waiting to happen" due to dense,
unburned stands of beetle-killed lodgepole pine on the west side of
Highway 75. In the article by reporter Todd Adams, Sexton said prescribed
burns in late fall would be one recommendation along with more timber
harvest and reviewing plans for structure protection.
Sexton led the nightly information meetings in Stanley during the fire. He
said that the Valley Road fire will be analyzed and information used to
help plan for future large fires in this area.
Another view was added by a longtime forester friend of mine. He told me
that it was a good thing that the fire started on September 3 and not
August 3rd. Also, that perhaps now the public, residents and Forest
Service will seriously realize there’s a real problem with extreme fire
danger in the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains. His solution agreed with
one of Sexton’s recommendations -- large prescribed burns.
To date, large prescribed burns, which would help clear out dense young
trees, underbrush, forest duff, and woodcutter and logging slash, are not
something the SNRA has been willing to do because of the risk involved
that the fire might get out of control.
There’s been patch cuts (limited to three acres on the SNRA) for post and
poles and house logs, thinning around campgrounds, houses and other
structures, and highways and powerlines. The SNRA offers free firewood for
non-commercial users in the Salmon River watershed.
Valley Road Fire burns Fisher Creek, three miles
behind this Shaw Mesa home near Highway 75 in the Sawtooth Valley.
Copyright photo: Lynne Stone, Boulder-White Clouds Council.
Many of you are familiar with the drainages that have been burned. As hard
as it was for me to see the flames and the atom bomb-type cloud over my
beloved mountains, this large fire was probably inevitable. More will
likely follow. Lodgepole pine matures at about 80 years, then becomes
prone to insects and disease. Over 1.5 million trees on the Sawtooth
National Recreation Area have been killed by the mountain pine beetle
since the early 1980’s and the number continues to grow. Six years of
drought have also weakened trees.
Nearly a century of fire repression has contributed to dense tree stands
and fuel build up. Whitebark pines, which grows at higher elevations (you
can see them from Galena Pass) are now also dying from the mountain pine
beetle in the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains. Some slopes have thick
stands of subalpine fir that are ripe to burn. Adding to the fuel load was
the fact that our region had heavy spring rains, causing grass to grow
unusually tall and thick.
Forest fires often burn in a mosaic and so it was with the Valley Road -
burning some areas intensely, while skipping over others. A Burned Area
Emergency Response (BAER) has been on the scene and will soon produce a
report on the fire and recommend steps to help the land and streams
USFS personnel have reported large numbers of fish killed in Champion Ck,
Fourth of July Creek and Warm Springs Creek where the fire burned
extremely hot. Heavy spring run-off or big storm events could harm these
streams where they have lost their streamside vegetation. Mulching these
areas with straw distributed by helicopter drop or by hand, will commence
in early October.
Warning sign posted Monday, Sept. 19, 2005, as trail
and road closure was lifted. Copyright 2005
Boulder-White Clouds Council.
ROADS AND TRAILS REOPEN - On Monday, Sept. 19, Fourth of July road was
reopened and I drove the ten miles to the Fourth of July trailhead. The
Forest Service (and myself) do not recommend going into the canyon due to
the burned trees along the road, which could fall over, especially with
rain and wind. There are hot spots of smoldering wood. I saw two with
flames. Nevertheless, despite the risk, it was facinating to see the burn.
The following drainages have burned or partially burned -- please note
that this is preliminary information and not official from fire
authorities. It's based on the fire perimeter map and numerous
conversations with those at the scene.
Warm Creek and a portion of Michael Humphrey's cattle pasture at the mouth
of Champion Creek. No cows were injured. The eastern edge of the fire
burned to the Hourglass ridge, well known to folks who follow the wolf
issue in the Sawtooth Valley. The Galena Wolf Pack has apparently survived
the fire without incident. Their tracks have been seen in the ash, and
they’ve been heard howling at night.
Champion Creek canyon to the lakes, lower SFK Champion Ck (the outfitter
camp at lower Champion Lake did not burn).
BWCC's Lynne Stone at the Champion Lakes Trailhead
off Fourth of July road, which was completely burned. Copyright 2005
Boulder-White Clouds Council.
Champion Lakes trailhead on Fourth July Road burned completely, including
the trail register box, outhouse, stock mangers and loading dock.
Fourth of July canyon about 4 miles up to Fourth of July trailhead. A
historic log cabin at the crossing into Pass Creek burned. The middle
Fourth of July canyon burned hot, upper canyon spotted.
Ridge above Fourth of July canyon to Blackman Peak (spot fires - visible
from Highway 75).
At Fourth of July Trailhead the fire spotted, and left all manmade
structures intact except for a stock manger which burned. The odorous
toilet did not burn. Reports of vehicles burning at this trailhead were
not true. Hikers/backpackers in the area were located on Sunday, then
evacuated by helicopter or vehicle.
Fourth of July Creek was burned over for several
miles, killing fish. Copyright 2005 Boulder-White Clouds Council.
A dramatic rescue of seven stranded
vehicles at Fourth July Trailhead occurred on Monday morning when the fire
was laying low, and personnel chain sawed their way up the smoky canyon to
retrieve the cars. There were originally 30 vehicles at the trailhead when
the fire started. Apparently some recreationists left as the smoke rolled
up Saturday afternoon.
An historic mining cabin at the old Fourth of July trailhead burned. I
have a photo of miner Elmer Enderlin that was taken in the 1950’s at the
cabin. I have 25 years of photos of my friends, family and myself in front
of that cabin. Now it’s gone. I’ll miss it.
Heart Lake drainage reportedly burnt to Heart Lake, but if so, it’s not
visible from Fourth of July road. There are still many trees in lower
Heart Lake canyon.
Some of lower Phyllis Lake drainage. Winds blew the fire away from Phyllis
Lake. Burned trees are presently blocking Phyllis Lake road along with
numerous smoldering fires nearby. Hunters will probably cut these trees
Portions of Mt Home canyon and a little of Strawberry Basin.
Pass Creek to meadow by Fisher Creek road.
Smoke plume as fire burns Pass Creek, Fisher Creek
and Pigtail Creek, Thursday, Sept 8, 2005. Copyright 2005
Boulder-White Clouds Council.
Fisher Creek burned but stayed 3/4 mile or so away from homes. Intensive
effort went into saving the Fisher CK subdivision, including countless
bomber retardant drops and helicopter water drops, and back fires. Tanker
trucks including fire engines from Ketchum stood by. Fisher Ck property
owners were evacuated until Friday night, Sept 9. Several residences in
Fisher Creek are surrounded by trees and other thick vegetation.
Pigtail Creek (the Fisher-Williams Creek bike loop is going to have a new
Aztec Mine cabin and out buildings. This is at road's end in upper Fisher
Creek. The trail used to go by this cabin, but was rerouted away several
Warm Springs Meadow - the dry portions burned, the green portions did not.
Downtown Stanley, Friday, Sept. 9 as the fire blows
up and races down Warm Springs canyon. Copyright 2005 Boulder-White
Warm Springs canyon to within 3 miles of Robinson Bar Ranch on the Salmon
Martin Creek and Garland Creek trails -- fire boundary was three and two
miles up these drainages respectively from Warm Springs Creek. The fire
did not reach Lookout Mt or the Casino Lakes or Martin Lakes.
Lower Swimm Lake drainage, lower Bear Creek drainage, lower "Gunsight"
canyon drainage --- rough, wild places on the west side of Warm Springs
Again, this write-up is based on preliminary information.