HAILEY • Smoke billowing from nearby hills brought back bad memories for Hailey resident Pete Heaphy.
Sunday evening, Heaphy raced to his parents’ home in Colorado Gulch, where flames were starting to whip up. With no one home, Heaphy turned the lawn sprinklers on and hoped for the best as the fire spread.
It was a stressful evening for the family at the Heaphy house on Croy Creek Road. Over 24 hours, fire consumed 715 acres in what Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey called “extreme fire behavior” reminiscent of last August’s Beaver Creek Fire, which burned 111,490 acres.
The Beaver Creek Fire, which burned north of Monday’s Colorado Gulch Fire, threatened Wood River Valley homes and caused thousands of residents to evacuate.
Heaphy said he was impressed by the area’s fast-acting firefighters, whom he credited with saving the area from a repeat of last summer.
“There were definitely some concerns after being evacuated last summer and the fact that we haven’t gotten any rain and it is very dry at this point,” he said. “So it was bringing back mixed feelings from last year.”
Although Heaphy and family remained in their home, others in the area were evacuated while federal and local firefighters launched a multi-pronged attack on the blaze.
The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuation of about 20 homes along Croesus Creek Road and Rodeo Drive. Those orders were lifted at 4:15 p.m. In all, more than a dozen homes were directly threatened, but none was damaged, Ramsey reported.
Several roads were closed, including Croy Creek Road at Bow Bridge and Colorado Gulch Road at Broadford Road. Lion’s Park also closed.
Croy Creek Road opened to local traffic in late afternoon. Heaphy said the road was lined with curious locals throughout the day — something the Sheriff’s Office hoped to avoid should more evacuations have been needed.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management crews expected to contain the fire by 10 tonight, but no control time had been predicted, spokeswoman Kelsey Dehoney said.
The fire was fought under the unified command of Wood River Fire and Rescue and the BLM. Nine structure engines, four water tenders and four wildland engines were sent by Wood River and the fire departments of Hailey, Ketchum, Sun Valley and Bellevue, Ramsey wrote in a release.
The BLM sent seven engines, three hand crews, a camp crew, two bulldozers, four single-engine air tankers, three helicopters and a large air tanker to the blaze, Dehoney said.
The fire began about 7:30 p.m. Sunday on private land and burned in Croy Canyon before jumping Colorado Gulch Road and spreading onto BLM land, Ramsey reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Throughout Sunday evening and Monday morning, the blaze laid down before picking up again as temperatures rose during the day. What started as a 200-acre fire grew to more than 700 acres by mid-afternoon, fueled by steady 10-mph winds, dry conditions and a few flare-ups, said Ryan Berlin, BLM mitigation and education specialist.
“When we got here this morning, we were just in kind of a mop-up mode,” Berlin said. “We had local fire departments around the structure, and BLM, U.S. Forest Service working the lines. … We had a few breakouts of the fireline, which is typical with this fuel. Sagebrush holds the heat.”
The BLM ordered significant air resources. While helicopters dropped water pulled from the Big Wood River, airplanes laid lines of fire retardant.
A VLAT — very large air tanker — was ordered from Boise, Dehoney said. The VLAT also was used on weekend fires near Richfield and Stanley. Monday’s work marked its seventh retardant drop in four days, Dehoney said.
She said crews were able to knock flames down. As of 4 p.m., the blaze was smoldering, with pockets of flames sprouting occasionally.