HAILEY, Idaho • The Blaine County Sheriff's Office returned a few areas to pre-evacuation status Monday morning, allowing residents to return to their homes after the Beaver Creek Fire forced mandatory evacuations across the area in the past few days.
The evacuation orders for Ohio Gulch, Heatherlands, Indian Creek and Valley Club are the only orders lifted, and all other mandatory evacuations remain in place. Though mandatory evacuations for these four areas are lifted, they remain on pre-evacuation alert and residents should be prepared for evacuations if the situation changes.
The Blaine County Sheriff's Office asks residents of Indian Creek to return by traveling east on McKercher Boulevard, then north on Buttercup Road to Indian Creek Road. The Sheriff's Office asks Valley Club residents to return via Ohio Gulch through the north entrance, not the North Buttercup entrance from the highway.
Cautious optimism reigned Sunday as 300 more firefighters joined the battle with the Beaver Creek blaze that’s now consumed more than 100,000 acres.
The Beaver Creek Fire has smoldered since Aug. 7 but erupted fiercely late last week, driving more than 2,200 Ketchum and Hailey residents from their homes.
More than 1,150 firefighters dug pits on the ground and dropped water from the sky Sunday, primarily focused on containing the conflagration’s highly populated southern boundary.
With the Elk Complex, Pony Complex and McCan fires considered largely under control, an increasing number of federal, state and private crews were available for the Beaver Creek campaign, fire officials said.
Those bolstered numbers, combined with favorable atmospheric conditions, fostered a belief among fire officials that the tide might be turning in their favor.
“I think tomorrow, when we look back at today, we’ll say we’ve turned a corner,” said Tracy Weaver, a spokeswoman for Great Basin Incident Management team. “I think we’ll say we’re in much better shape.”
Firefighters throughout the fire command center in Hailey repeatedly said they now have “the resources we’ve been asking for” after the influx of new crews.
Two firefighters suffered twisted knees on the rocky terrain, and another was treated for a case of vertigo, sustained while exiting a helicopter, Weaver said.
The Beaver Creek blaze grew another 8,000 acres between Saturday and Sunday afternoon. More than 104,000 acres have been consumed as of Monday morning, prompting the evacuation of Croy and parts of west Hailey.
All evacuation orders remained in effect Sunday, but some may be lifted today, officials said.
Twenty-eight residents spent the night at the local College of Southern Idaho campus, where the Red Cross has set up a shelter, said response specialist Roger Hinton.
The optimism among fire crews that the Beaver Creek blaze might soon be contained, especially near the communities, must be music to the ears of locals like Heidi Baldwin.
Baldwin had left her Ketchum home Thursday and moved across town to her daughter’s house. That location soon was evacuated, too, as was her other daughter’s home in Hailey.
“I feel kind of like a gypsy,” Baldwin quipped. “I’m moving from place to place to place.”
She returned to her house Sunday long enough to pull her furniture away from the windows, where heat was intense, and bring her lawn furniture indoors so firefighters wouldn’t stumble over it.
After the Castlerock Fire in 2007, she’d returned home to find her outdoor furniture in the pool, pushed aside to make way for busy crews.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” Baldwin said.
The smoke-socked towns of Ketchum and Hailey were unusually quiet for a sunny summer Sunday.
A few residents, many of whom have been hunkered down in their homes for days, braved the blue haze on their bicycles Sunday.
“The first couple days, when we were helping everyone move, were full of adrenaline. It was exciting,” said Ketchum resident Rachel Cooper. “All my friends and family are feeling the same way today. We’re just sad.”
The blaze and lung-choking smoke constituted the last nail in at least one local business’s coffin, a friend’s little shop in Ketchum, Cooper said.
“The town is a ghost town. We’ve all been holed up at home,” she said, declining to name the business. “You can’t stay inside all day.”
The dry, southwesterly winds, gusting up to 30 mph, make the Beaver Creek Fire a continued threat to jump elsewhere.
“There’s no news, which may be a good thing,” said Blaine County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Bronwyn Nickel. “It’s still an aggressive fire, and we’re not at a place where we can take a breath yet.”
At one house on the side of Bald Mountain, a Type 2 helicopter flew less than 50 feet overhead, deafening the air with the pounding sound of rotors and spewing crimson retardant along a fire line.
The homeowner, firefighters and neighbors peered upward as the red wall of spray glowed in the sun, then dispersed into mist, spreading like red silk undulating in the breeze.
Even as they diligently fought the blaze, firefighters stopped to stake out and rope off a big, diamond-shaped island of grass so the huge log house overlooking the Wood River Valley wouldn’t lose all of its lawn — a thoughtful attention to detail amid the frantic days of firefighting.
Chief Photographer Ashley Smith and Online Editor Dan Warner contributed to this report.