PINE • Crews are battling flames that threatened structures in Pine, forcing officials to move tonight's community meeting to Mountain Home.
14 structures have been confirmed lost in the fire so far, though officials do not know of what kind. Significant structure loss occurred in the Fall Creek area.
The blaze approached a road near several businesses in Pine, but firefighters were able to establish a line and flames so far have not immediately threatened the buildings.
Evacuations are in place for Pine and along the Pine/Featherville road, but some residents are refusing to leave.
The Elk Fire Complex has now burned about 90,250 acres and is only 5 percent contained as officials assess the need for further evacuations.
A community meeting was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the senior center in Pine, but due to the proximity of the fire the meeting has been moved to the Elk's Lodge in Mountain Home.
The Elk Fire Complex continued to aggressively advance just outside of firefighters’ control Sunday, causing mass evacuations and destroying homes as it quickly became ranked the nation’s top priority wildfire.
The Elk Fire Complex was moving fast and dangerously Sunday, said Incident Commander Rich Harvey, who is leading the Type 1 management team in charge of the fire. Lightning sparked the fire last Thursday.
Hundreds of homes already had been evacuated and an unknown amount have been consumed in the flames.
“This thing is not being cooperative,” Harvey said. “We are waiting for more boots on the ground to help us.”
The Elmore County Sheriff’s Office enacted forced evacuations Sunday in the Pine and Prairie regions. The Sheriff’s Office was running on limited resources, as they also were evacuating homes threatened by the Pony Fire Complex near Mountain Home, which now covers more than 119,000 acres and is 20 percent contained. The two fires are burning close to one another but had not merged into one fire.
Officers were pleading with residents to follow the evacuation order, especially those who were refusing to leave.
“We are on the brink of a real calamity,” said sheriff’s Deputy Rich Wills. “We would rather have you out than in and have a funeral service.”
The Elk Fire Complex was feeding off dry and plentiful timber. While it’s just south of the 146,000-acre Trinity Ridge Fire that burned in 2012, firefighters stressed that the two were not similar.
The Trinity Ridge Fire caused evacuations, but none of them was forced. Nor did the fire burn as fast or hot, said Harvey, who also was incident commander on that major fire last year.
“Weather conditions will continue to work against us on this fire,” he said. “We have a dry cold front headed our way, and that will not work in our favor.”
Fire crews still were unsure how much damage the fire already had caused as of Sunday night. The activity inside the fire boundary caused trees to fall across roads, forcing authorities to clear them before fire crews could survey what was left.
By dusk Sunday, ash swirled softly as the fire’s smoke curtained the sun, changing the hue to an angry neon red.
Panicked homeowners packed the Pine Senior Center to learn more about the fire’s activity during a community information meeting Sunday night.
“There are fires all over the West,” Harvey said. “It’s going to take time before we get the boots on the ground that we need.”
Air resources are critical but difficult to use in heavy smoke, he said. While the crews have air tankers, pilots can’t fly into areas if they can’t see where they’re going to drop or where they’re going to fly from, Harvey said.
“We are trying our damnedest to get helicopters in here,” he said.
A crew of 415 was battling the fire, including hotshots, the elite firefighting crews.
Firefighters swung chainsaws over their sweat-stained shoulders as they swiftly moved from house to house trying to set up structure protection.
Tracy Hills, of Jerome, wasn’t convinced she needed to move her family out of their summer home until she saw the dark smoke directly overhead.
She, her husband and two kids loaded the back of their truck with coolers and their golden retriever, Woody.
“I’ve packed the quilts and the family clock from the 1800s,” she said. “We’re also clearing out the meats from the freezers, the power is out, don’t know when it’s going to turn back on.“
Idaho Power had cut off electricity to the evacuated homes in an effort to prevent additional fire hazards.
Hills said she hoped her home wouldn’t burn. Her husband had built a gravel road around their home, and their sprinklers had been running nonstop since they arrived Friday.
“We go to this place for serenity, to escape,” she said. “Now it’s us escaping from here.“
Farther down the road from the Hills, Tom and Karen Collins waited at friend Denise Freeman’s house before fleeing their residences.
“It has just exploded,” Karen said. “We had no idea it would move this fast. We thought we had more time.“
She had packed their car to the brink with clothes, medication and family heirlooms, but there was plenty more she couldn’t bring.
“I have too much here,” she said. “But at least we’re safe, that’s what matters.“