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Rains give fire crews helping hand

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | August 22, 2021 1:00 AM

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While overnight rains won't extinguish the Trestle Creek Complex fires, it should give firefighters a helping hand.

"While this rain will not put out the fire it will help the firefighters to be able to go direct, with hand crew line construction," Dorothy Harvey, Nevada Incident Management Team 4 public information officer, said in an online update on the fire.

The rains brought anywhere from a half-inch to almost three-quarters of an inch depending on location in the county, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network website.

Nevada IMT4 officials said fire crews would likely spend the weekend working on containment actions on the western and southern flanks of the fire. Heavy equipment is being used to create fuel breaks and both indirect and direct lines where possible.

A combination of engine crews and hand crews are fighting spot fires in the Trestle Creek area, Harvey said. Crews also are scouting out old roads for use as access area as well as containment lines.

A total of 6,180 acres have burned in fires associated with the complex. Overall, containment is estimated at 5% contained.

There are now 329 firefighters battling the Trestle Creek Complex fires, including eight hand crews, 20 engines and four dozers, two feller bunchers, a masticator and two excavators, three water tenders and two helicopters.

The area is in exceptional to extreme drought, with seasonal severity well above average and near record levels as conditions are drying out again, fire officials said on InciWeb, an interagency fire tracking website.

A gradual warming/drying trend is expected in the area in the coming week with more seasonal southwest to west winds anticipated. Humidity values are expected to drop into the lower 40s at lower elevations but remain in the 50 percent range across the higher terrain.

"This time of year, dry cold fronts can be expected which can lead to rapid fire spread in multiple directions," Harvey said.

In other fires in the region:

Stateline Complex

Located on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, the Stateline Complex has burned 12,757 acres and is 15% combined. The largest of the fires in the complex are the Tumbledown Fire, which has burned 10,677 acres and is 20% contained.

While a flash flood watch was issued through Saturday afternoon, fire officials said the threat of significant flooding on the fire is "quite small."

Early Saturday morning, Highway 50 through the Tumbledown Fire was blocked by several landslides, which made the roadway inaccessible and unsafe for fire crews.

"Once the road is safe to drive on, fire crews will engage and continue progression of expanding containment lines," officials said on Inciweb.

Once the highway reopens, hand crews will be utilized to mop up direct heat near fire containment lines between Fuzzy and Bluff creeks and engines, hand crews and heavy equipment will continue building direct and indirect fire lines around the perimeter.

Character Complex

The Character Complex — originally comprised of the Deceitful and Prichard fires — has burned 12,259 acres and is considered 24% contained. The Prichard Fire was turned back over to the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District on Aug. 14.

Additional resources helped significantly increase containment of the complex from 10% to 24% as weather allowed for direct fire suppression opportunities. With that cooler weather, officials said that crews are working strengthen a fire line west of Scott Gulch.

South Yaak Fire

Located about 4 miles northwest of Troy, Mont., the South Yaak Fire has burned 12,522 acres and is 51% contained.

Air resources were put to use Friday, helping aerial crews scout for line locations in the North Fork of Keeler Creek below Feeder Mountain. A fuel break in the Eastside and Seventeen Mile areas has been completed as patrol and mop-up operations will continue in the Eastside and Kilbrennan areas.

Burnt Peak Fire

Located 9 miles southwest of Troy, the Burnt Peak Fire has burned 4,066 acres and is 29% contained.

Like other fires in the region, wet and cooler weather helped crews make gains on the Burnt Peak Fire. However, warmer and drier conditions are expected to return on Monday.

"The fire behavior analyst projects that it will take up seven days of warm and dry weather for the fire to return to active behavior; meanwhile, it continues to smolder in thick understory fuels," officials said.

Masticators — similar to wood chippers — are working to reduce vegetation and widen the corridor on Keeler-Rattle Road and create a shaded fuel break. Feller bunchers finished work on the fuel break along 404 Road and will be moving to 4576 Road to create another shaded fuel break near Surprise Draw, officials said.

For information on fire restrictions, the "Ready, Set, Go" evacuation program, Idaho Firewise and more, go online to idahofireinfo.com. For up-to-date information on smoke, go online to fire.airnow.gov.