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Kootenai River Complex burns 7K acres

by CAROLINE LOBSINGEREMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | September 4, 2022 1:00 AM

BOUNDARY COUNTY — Now known as the Kootenai River Complex, the wildfire located north of Bonners Ferry has burned an estimated 6,984 acres.

Previously, the fire had been separated into the Eneas Peak, Katka, Russell Mountain, Scotch Creek, and Trout fires. An infrared mapping flight Friday found the complex had grown by 1,547 acres in recent days with the most growth occurring on the Trout, Russell Mountain and Scotch Creek fires.

"Fire managers continue to assess opportunities to utilize aviation

resources to prevent all four fires within the Selkirk Mountains from impacting private land and homes to the east," Joshua Baker, U.S Forest Service public information officer, said. "Engines are working along Westside road to protect private homes, and crews will continue the work into the night."

The Scotch Fire was started by a lightning strike near Scotch Creek in the Ball Creek drainage and was last estimated at 494 acres. A Northern Rockies Type 2 incident management team will be taking over management of the Kootenai River Complex fires on Sunday, Sept. 4. 

The Kootenai River Complex consists of The Eneas Peak Fire, the Trout Fire, the Russell Mountain Fire, the Scotch Fire, and the Katka Fire and is estimated to be 6,984 Acres. 

The large number of  wildfires in the county — and resultant threat to structures in Katka Peak and Scotch Creek — prompted Boundary County commissioners to declare a state of emergency Friday morning.

The declaration mainly opens up the county’s spending authority and eases other requirements so the county can respond quickly to the wildfires. It also opens the door to potential funding from state and federal agencies in case the county incurs extraordinary expenses in responding to the fires, Andrew O’Neel, Boundary County Emergency Management director, said

Approval is the first step of a process that could free up the county’s provision of emergency aid and assistance under the Boundary County Emergency Operations Plan, O’Neel said in a press release. It also opens the door to potential funding from state and federal agencies in case the county incurs extraordinary expenses in responding to the fires.

Boundary County officials cautions that while area residents may see several fields being burned in the county, the effort are being coordinated with the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands as a preemptive measure to reduce available fuels.

O'Neel said the field burns would not start until the temperature inversion lifts, so as not to further degrade air quality. 

The wildfires have severely impacted air quality in both Bonner and Boundary counties, with particulate levels ranging between unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for all groups well into Saturday afternoon.

Diamond Watch Fire

The fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 14, is now at 44% containment. There has been minimal fire activity but above average temperatures raising the potential for movement on the 844-acre fire.

Firefighters have completed all the containment lines on the west, south and east sides of the Diamond Watch Fire. Diamond Creek continues to act as a natural barrier keeping the fire confined on the northern edge.

This fire is being managed with a contained/confined strategy using a combination of natural barriers and constructed fireline to stop the fires spread beyond the defined area.

Thor Fire

Located on the Colville National Forest, the Thor Fire has burned roughly 329 acres since it was sparked by lightning in mid-August.

A full-suppression strategy is being used with firefighter and public safety being the highest priority, Livia Stecker, public information officer, said.

The fire is burning in an area where low to moderate fire activity does not pose a threat to wildlife habitat, recreation infrastructure, or private land.

Smoke from the fire has been visible from Ione, Metaline and Metaline Falls, Priest Lake, Sullivan Lake and many other surrounding locations.

Boulder Mountain Fire

The Boulder Mountain Fire, started by lightning on Aug. 32, has burned between 1,000 and 3,000 acres. Located in the Tacoma Creek and Boulder Mountain area northwest of Cusick, Wash., the fire is burning on federal, state and private land. The terrain is difficult and the fire is burning in heavy timber, slash, and beetle infested trees. The Northeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team Type 3 Team 2 has assumed command of the fire as of Saturday morning.

Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District

USFS crews are managing the Columbus Fire and the Bear Gulch Fire with an indirect suppression strategy.

Record heat has resulted in moderately increased fire behavior on both fires this week, with smoke visible from the Thompson Falls area, officials said.

The management strategy and objectives have not changed, and suppression resources will be utilized where needed to confine the fires or conduct point zone protection on any private values in the area.

The Columbus Fire, approximately 6 miles northeast of Murray, is estimated at 300 acres. A few miles to the south is the Bear Gulch Fire, which has seen only 10 acres of growth this week and is now 50 acres.

Both fires are steep terrain with limited access opportunities for direct attack by firefighters.

St. Joe Ranger District

The largest fire on the district is the Blackburn Fire at 225 acres. The road closure on FSR 320 has been lifted, but caution is advised when traveling around active wildfires.

There are currently no road or area closures on the St. Joe Ranger District associated with fire activity, but a closure is in place on a segment of FSR 326 for road work.

Closures and evacuations

On the Diamond Watch Fire, closure orders are in effect for Forest Service roads 311, 308, and 1362H in the vicinity of the fire. However, FSR 1362 remains open. Petit Lake and is associated campsites are within the closure area. USFS officials reminds residents that all methods of travel are prohibited (foot, mechanized, motorized and stock) on the closed roads and area.

On the Kootenai River Complex, residents are asked to avoid Trout Creek Road (Forest Service Road 634) as well as nearby trails to allow for fire suppression efforts in the vicinity. Trails included are Fisher Peak (No. 27), Pyramid Lake (No. 13), Pyramid Peak (No. 7), Trout Lake (No. 41) and Ball and Pyramid Lakes Trail (No 43).

While there are no evacuations in place, those living on West Side Road closest to Ball, Burton and Clark creeks have been upgraded to "set" status under the Ready-Set-Go evacuation procedure.

Under ready, residents are advised to have a plan to evacuate if necessary, while set status asks residents to begin putting their plan into place. Under go status, residents are told to leave immediately due to an imminent threat.

On the Thor Fire, FSR 2200300 is closed to public use.

On the Coeur d'Alene Ranger District, closures include Trail 148 along Casper Creek, Trail 7 from the intersection with Trail 774 to Thompson Pass, Trail 1107 near the state line, Trail 763 near the state line, Forest Service Road 938, FSR 430 and FSR 604CZ.

All methods of travel are prohibited (foot, mechanized, motorized and stock) on the closed roads and area.

As a reminder, civilian drones are not allowed around active fires. Flying drones near an emergency scene is against the law and will interfere with firefighting aircraft, working against the firefighters on scene.

Information: InciWeb.nwcg.gov

photo

(Photo courtesy W. KUCERA/U.S. FOREST SERVICE)

A recon flight on Aug. 25 shows a portion of the Eneas Peak now part of the Kootenai River Complex.