HAILEY, Idaho — More mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted Tuesday, and a handful of Wood River Valley residents have been able to return to their homes after fleeing from the Beaver Creek Fire just days earlier.
Residents on the west side of Highway 75 from McKercher Boulevard to the south side of Greenhorn Bridge and Deer Creek have been returned to pre-evacuation status, along with East Fork Canyon including Triumph. These areas are still on pre-evacuation alert, meaning residents should be prepared to leave if necessary.
Residents returning Monday gave firefighters a glimmer of hope that the worst of the 106,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire could possibly be dwindling.
“We are making progress,” said Incident Commander Beth Lund. “It’s finally behaving.”
Overall, the wildfire’s threat toward structures and communities has been reduced but it hasn’t gone away, Lund said.
Thunderstorms are forecasted until Thursday. While they might bring rain, they will also bring lightning, which could cause more fires in Blaine County, including in the Beaver Creek Fire area.
First sparking on Aug. 7 after a lightning storm ripped through Blaine and Camas counties, the Beaver Creek Fire has since caused more than 2,200 Ketchum and Sun Valley residents to evacuate and 7,750 residents to be on high alert that they could be asked to leave at any moment.
Helping suppress the flames, 1,150 fire personnel from local and national fire agencies have been called in, causing the fire’s price tag to reach $9.3 million to date.
Despite a reprieve in some of the mandatory evacuations, fire crews still had a lot to do before they could fully contain the fire Monday. The fire has been classified as the nation’s top priority wildfire since Thursday.
“We are doing everything we can do to get people into their homes, but we will not do so until it’s safe,” said Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey.
The fire is shaped like the arcade game character Pac-Man, said fire spokesman Rudy Evenson. The top of the mouth is extending and growing north of Ketchum with the jaw reaching just below it. The only barrier protecting the Ketchum and Sun Valley is the old burn area from the 2007 Castle Rock Fire.
At the time, Castle Rock fire also caused mandatory evacuations, but it only burned 46,000 acres in 20 days.
“Ketchum is lucky to have that,” he said.
But above it, the forest’s dead trees — killed from pine beetles 10 years prior — have continued to feed the greedy fire.
“This is our problem area,” Lund said.
Trees surrounded by the flames and heat sat in a pressure cooker setting four hours near Baker Creek. By mid-afternoon, trees began torching one by one. Black pine needles littered the gravel roads leading deeper into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Well-known for its camping and hiking, firefighters have been sent in to protect cabins and wooden bridges before the flames consume them.
“All these campsites were full during the Fourth of July,” said Madonna Lengerich, spokeswoman for the Beaver Creek Fire. “It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like next year.“
Since day one, the Beaver Creek Fire has been a difficult and stubborn fire to contain, said Kole Berriochoa, branch director on the Beaver Creek Fire.
The fire’s smoke rose 35,000 feet in the air and drifted to Twin Falls and Boise, he said.
“That helped get us more resources,” he said. “Now that we have more resources coming our way, we should be in good shape.”