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IMTs on station: "Absolutely unprecedented in IDL history"

Wind yesterday afternoon brought a surge of smoke to Kamiah from Lolo Creek.

Photo by Andrew Ottoson
Wind yesterday afternoon brought a surge of smoke to Kamiah from Lolo Creek.



(This story has been updated. See the updates below.)

At a public meeting last night in Kamiah, Idaho Department of Lands Maggie Creek area manager Zoanne Anderson said the presence of two Type II teams and one Type I team to fight fires in the area is "absolutely unprecedented in IDL history." While command was still organizing its response to the numerous fires now burning in Idaho, Lewis and Clearwater counties, an active burning day saw many fires rapidly grow in size. This morning, the highest priority fire in the area, the Lawyer Complex, has grown to more than 11,600 acres -- more than triple the size command reported last night.

Update (9:45 a.m. Friday): IDL's Sharla Arledge sends along the following primer on IMTs:

As a new PIO to the fire world I know there is a lot of terminology the average person isn’t familiar with. With this severe fire season we are talking a lot about Incident Management Teams. The question has come up, what is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 fire teams.

I thought it might be helpful to have an explanation of Incident Management Teams.

What is an Incident Management Team?

An incident management team is a small group of people fire management professionals specially trained and experienced in managing complex emergency fire situations. It is a tool to help fire protection agency manage fire situations that exceed their resources.

An incident management team is supervised by an Incident Commander that oversees specialists with expertise in operations, logistics, plans and finance and administration. Type 1 or 2 teams are commonly comprised of qualified individuals from various state and federal agencies. Type 3 teams are usually composed of individuals from other units within the protection agencies and from units of other agencies in the local area.

Teams are classified as Type 1, 2 or 3 based on the complexity of fires they are qualified to manage. A couple of differences between a Type 1 and Type 2 team is the complexity of the fire and the number of personnel. Type 1 teams handle the most complex fires and operation personnel often exceed 500 people and total people on the incident usually exceed 1,000.

When is a team needed?

An incident management team is assigned to relieve a wildfire agency that no longer has the resources to effectively manage the local fire situation. Examples would be:

• When a single large fire reaches a level of complexity that exceeds the experience or resources of the unit(s) fighting the fire.

• When a large number of fires start in a short period of time causing an excessive initial attack workload.

The protection agency requests the assignment of a team. The requests are driven not only by the fire situation and resource availability, but also what weather and burning conditions are expected in the future.

The role of a team.

When a team is activated and assembles on scene it is fully briefed on the fire situation and the risks and suppression objectives by the protection agency. After the briefing the team assumes management responsibility for the fire(s). This allows the local protection agency to replenish its resources and focus them on the initial attack responsibilities elsewhere.

The team operates under the direction of an employee of the agency on whose protection the fire occurs. This employee is called the Line Officer. The Line Officer ensures the team manages the fire in an economical manner with safety for the public and fire personnel always being the first priority.

The cost of suppression increases substantially anytime a team is assigned, especially a Type 1 or 2 team. This is because of the large amount of equipment and supplies needed to support the personnel and resources assigned to a large fire.

Update (10 a.m. Friday): Lawyer Complex command is anticipating changing winds and increasing fire behavior as a cold front moves through the area.

"We are expecting critical fire weather today as a cold front and thunderstorms move through the area. This will create strong winds and could cause a significant increase in fire behavior throughout the afternoon and evening. The winds will start fairly moderate from the south east this morning but will rotate clockwise as the cold front arrives around mid-day. As the winds move towards the west then north, they will increase to 20-25 miles per hour with potentially stronger gusts. As we experience the increase in fire behavior, please be aware of your surroundings and self-evacuate as needed. That is, if you feel uncomfortable, leave the area. Our resources on the fire line are aware of the expected weather changes and structure protection is a priority. But, the less they have to worry about endangered lives, the easier their job will be."

In its morning update, Lawyer Complex command also advised the public of two new Stage 2 evacuations in the Kamiah area.

Celestial Road and Friendship Lane in the Woodland area have been added to yesterday’s stage 2 evacuation notices. Citizens are asked to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Situations could change rapidly throughout the day. Stay aware of your surroundings and if you are concerned or feel threatened, leave the area.

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Road closure information is available through 511.idaho.gov. Noted on this map are: a caution for reduced visibility and the presence of a flagger on State Highway 162; the fire closure of State Highway 64, and a caution for the presence of a flagger on U.S. Highway 12 near Greer.

Update (10 a.m. Friday): The road closure of State Highway 64 remains in effect. Lawyer Complex command has asked the public to "limit your travel along Hwy 64 and Woodland Grade road to allow emergency personnel room to work."

Update (10:15 a.m. Friday): Air quality advisories from both the Nez Perce Tribe and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality remain in effect.

From DEQ:

Due to regional wildfire smoke, air quality will remain in the Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups category for the next few days.

From the Tribe:

Both 24-hour and 1-hour monitor readings can be expected to range from the “Moderate” to “Hazardous” category Friday and through the weekend. Local air quality will improve and worsen as smoke moves in and out of communities.

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The National Weather Service in Missoula has issued a Red Flag Warning effective in the Kamiah area at 11 a.m. Friday.

Update (10:30 a.m. Friday): A red flag warning goes into effect in the Kamiah area at 11 a.m. From the National Weather Service in Missoula:

The National Weather Service in Missoula has issued a Red Flag warning which is in effect from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday. ...

  • Winds: widespread gusts by the late afternoon up to 35 mph, with higher gusts possible over ridges. thunderstorms could produce erratic winds up to 45 mph.
  • Minimum humidities: humidities dropping the low teens in the afternoon ahead of the cold front.
  • Thunderstorms: isolated thunderstorms are anticipated early friday morning, followed by scattered stronger thunderstorms in the afternoon. rain cores could produce moderate rainfall. Lightning and winds could cause issues for ongoing fires.
  • Timing: southerly winds will develop by mid-day, followed by the strongest winds as the front pushes through the area during the late afternoon.

Update (10:45 a.m. Friday): A Fire Management Assistance Grant from FEMA has been authorized. From FEMA:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Clearwater Complex Lawyer Branch Fire burning in Lewis and Idaho counties, Idaho.

FEMA Region X Regional Administrator Kenneth D. Murphy determined that the fire threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster. Murphy approved the state of Idaho’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) at 1:13 a.m. MDT on Aug. 14, 2015.

At the time of the request, the fire was immediately threatening 650 homes in and around the community of Kamiah. Approximately 600 of the threatened homes are primary residences while others are secondary homes. The fire was also threatening a power substation, two medical clinics, an assisted living facility, two water treatment plants, a sewage treatment plant, city hall, a police station and a senior citizen center. Additionally, the fire threatens Clearwater watershed, salmon and steelhead spawning areas and the Nez Perce Reservation. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations were issued for approximately 1,200 people.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state of Idaho’s eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. These grants provide reimbursement for firefighting and life-saving efforts. They do not provide assistance to individuals, homeowners or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

FMAGs are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.

Update (11 a.m. Friday): The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests are continuing to fight dozens of fires caused by lightning earlier this week. From the combined forests:

Firefighters will again battle dozens of lightning-caused wildfires in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests under dangerous conditions that are ideal for rapid spread of fires and ignition of new starts.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today for the combined forests and surrounding areas. A cold front and thunderstorms passing through the area will create strong winds that could significantly increase fire activity throughout the afternoon and evening.

The weather change will swing winds around from the southeast this morning clockwise to the north as the cold front arrives. Wind gusts could reach 30 to 35 mph later today. To ensure their safety, firefighters could be pulled off the fire line in some areas during the most critical periods.

Yesterday, fires burning in the Syringa and Pilot Knob areas of the Forest were folded into the new Clearwater Complex under the direction of Greg Poncin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team. The Clearwater Complex includes dozens of the fires sparked by lightning since Monday. Besides the Syringa and Pilot Knob branches, the complex also has Kamiah, Fisher and Lolo branches.

Two of the largest fires in the Syringa branch both grew yesterday. Woodrat, now about 150 acres, has crossed the 418 Road and spotted in multiple areas. The Big Hill Fire has grown to 25 acres and crossed the 5515 Road. Firefighters are working to hold the fire north of Syringa.

An area closure for the Forest’s Lochsa District that went into effect yesterday includes Woodrat, Big Hill and also the Fourbit Fires south of Mex Mountain, where a cluster of fires is growing into a single large fire. At least 30 wildfires are still burning within the Lochsa closure area, rendering it unsafe for the public. Two Lochsa lookouts have been evacuated -- Pilot Knob and Walde. Lightning strikes were reported on the Forest again yesterday, along with new starts.

The Red River Ranger District had nine new fires, with seven staffed. Ten fires were declared out. Firefighters are trying to pinpoint the exact location of the Deadwood Fire, burning about three miles southwest of Elk City on the Crooked River. The fire has grown to about 15 acres.

Moose Creek Ranger District had nine new fires. The 100-acre Pilot Knob Fire is being monitored until coming under the command of the Type 1 team.

Update (12:30 p.m. Friday): The Forest Service is reminding the public there are temporary flight restrictions where fires are burning.

Update (2 p.m. Friday): Evacuations have been ordered for all areas west of Kamiah city limits, as the fire has jumped Lawyer Creek. From command:

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Evacuations map, Aug. 14, via Lawyer Complex incident command. Current as of 2:30 p.m.

We are in level 3 evacuations (mandatory evacuation) for all areas west of Kamiah City Limits. Don't wait for us to tell you, if you are concerned please leave the area.

From Idaho County Sheriff's Office:

City of Kamiah is currently under Stage 2 evacuation. Under Stage 3 (mandatory) evacuation are: Bethman Estates; both sides of SH 162, which is also closed; Ft Misery Road; Robie Road; Pine Ridge.

Update (2:30 p.m. Friday): Per Idaho Department of Transporation, State Highway 162 west of Kamiah at mile markers 20-22 (two miles west of town) is blocked by forest fire.

Update (2:45p.m. Friday): Command has issued a reminder:

The Red Cross shelter for evacuees is in the Elementary School in Kooskia, ID. The address is 306 Pine Ave.

Update (3 p.m. Friday): Stage 2 evacuation areas include many areas including Kamiah proper and many nearby subdivisions. From Inciweb:

Areas west of Kamiah, ID city limits are now in mandatory evacuations (stage 3).These areas include Pine Ridge and Bethman Addition.

All of Kamiah proper and the surrounding areas should be packed and ready to evacuate (stage 2). These areas include Harrisburg East, Caribel, Tom Taha, Adams Grade, Kamiah proper, East Kamiah, Woodland Grade, Frasure Grade, Ridgewood, and Fort Misery.

Update (4 p.m. Friday): The Nez Perce Tribe will open and operate a Red Cross supported shelter at 102 Agency Rd in Lapwai, ID for the evacuees of local wildfires.

Update (4 p.m. Friday): State Highway 162 is open to one-lane traffic between Fort Misery Road and Delaware Street (1 to 3 miles west of the Kamiah area). Look out for a forest fire. A pilot car is in operation.

Update (4:15 p.m. Friday): Idaho and Lewis county sheriffs and incident command have issued a joint statement regarding the evacuations.

Lewis and Idaho County Sherriff offices are asking residents in and around the town of Kamiah to be aware that erratic fire behavior is such that the need to evacuate your residence may be necessary without individual notification.

  • You should prepare now by packing necessary items and preparing your family, pets and vehicle for departure.
  • Now is the time to move persons with mobility and medical issues.
  • Remember to pack important papers and medications.
  • Red Cross has set up a shelter at Kooskia Elementary School located at 306 Pine Avenue in Kooskia. Please check in with them and let them know where you will be in case your family is looking for you.
  • You are welcome to use your common sense to evacuate at any time you feel uncomfortable.
  • You may not receive in person contact.

Update (4:15 p.m. Friday): Governor Otter will conduct an aerial tour of the Clearwater Complex and Soda fires burning in north central and southwestern Idaho respectively on Saturday. Governor Otter will visit both regions via Idaho National Guard Lakota Helicopter. From the Governor's Office:

Governor Otter conducts an aerial tour of the Clearwater Complex and Soda fires burning in north central and southwestern Idaho respectively. Governor Otter will visit both regions via Idaho National Guard Lakota Helicopter. Governor Otter, Lt. Governor Brad Little and local officials will be briefed by incident commanders at the Soda Fire Incident Command Post. Immediately following the briefing, the Governor, Lt. Governor, Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security General Brad Richy and other officials will participate in a media availability, 2:30 p.m., Homedale Armory, 432 Nevada Street, (Soda Fire ICP), Homedale.

Update (5 p.m. Friday): Woodland Grade and Frasure Grade are now in Stage 3 (mandatory) evacuations, per Idaho County Sheriff's Office.

Update (5 p.m. Friday): The Nez Perce shelter for wildfire evacuees is in the Pi-Nee-Waus Community Center at 102 Agency Road in Lawpai.

Update (5 p.m. Friday): The Clearwater County Commissioners have signed a disaster declaration for the Clearwater Complex Fire. Previously, Idaho and Lewis counties did the same. Earlier today, Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security noted:

Federal funds are being made available to help with firefighting costs for the Clearwater Complex Fires in north central Idaho. This follows the signing Thursday of a State Declaration of Disaster Emergency for Lewis and Idaho Counties in the wake of lightning-sparked wildfires that have consumed more than 15-thousand acres. The Clearwater Complex fire, which includes the Lawyer Complex and the Fisher Complex fires, began Monday and has led to voluntary evacuations and road closures.

“This remains a very dangerous and challenging time for the entire state,” said IBHS Director Brad Richy. “With 51 named fires, high temperatures, low relative humidity and Red Flag warnings it is critically important for residents to remain informed about evacuation orders and safety precautions.”

Lewis County, Idaho County, and the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security requested the federal assistance due to the rapidly moving fires, dangerous fire conditions and the potential for its impact to residences and infrastructure in the fire’s anticipated path.

The Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state of Idaho’s eligible firefighting costs for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. The grants only provide reimbursement for firefighting and life-saving efforts. These grants do not provide assistance to individual homeowners or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

Update (5:45 p.m. Friday): Idaho Public Radio reports the Syringa Fires now total 100 acres with 44 personnel on scene at the Woodrat Fire, while the Big Hill Fire is "about 40 acres."

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Evacuations in effect in Kamiah and surrounding area, 5:50 p.m. Aug. 14.

Update (6 p.m. Friday): Current map of evacuation areas surrounding Kamiah.

Update (6:15 p.m. Friday): More evacuations. From inciweb:

Lawyer Fire: Fire has crossed the road at Woodland Grade and Frasure Grade. There is a spot fire above Hearthstone Lodge. They are using the sky crane there.

Lolo 2 Fire: Caribel area is being evacuated.

New Starts: New fire near Lowell. Structures are threatened and Lochsa Ranger District fire personnel are responding. The area around Red River was hit hard by lightning this afternoon.

Fisher Fire: Has crossed Hwy 62 and there are mandatory evacuation from Hwy 62 where the fire crossed the road to the City Limits of Nezperce.

Update (6:30p.m. Friday): Areas east of the river in Kamiah are now in Stage 3 evacuation. From command:

Areas east of the river are now in stage 3, mandatory evacuations. The fire is wrapping around the east side of U.S. Highway 12 from Frasure Grade south to Nikesa Creek/ Church Canyon. Along U.S. Highway 12, the areas surrounding and behind Hearthstone Lodge are also in mandatory evacuation.

Video

Woodland Road on fire

Update (10 p.m. Friday): Fire drove many in the Kamiah area from their homes. From the incident management team:

Due to severe weather today, active and erratic fire behavior occurred throughout the afternoon and evening with multiple areas of mandatory evacuations, spot fires, new starts, and rapid growth. Tonight, fire behavior will remain very active. We are still gathering the facts as to what exactly took place today.

The Free Press will continue to publish as much information as possible as it becomes available.

Update (10:15 p.m. Friday): Per inciweb, the Lawyer Complex fires totaled 12,981 acres as of 9:20 p.m., surging through 2,300 acres of the outlying areas around Kamiah.

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Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt, riding with Kooskia Rural Fire, had a close call on the way out of the Kidder Ridge area Friday night, Aug. 14.

Update (11:59 p.m. Friday): Idaho County commissioner Skip Brandt sent out a photo taken on Kidder Ridge. From Brandt:

For folks wondering about the Clearwater Complex fires. I have no info on the Orofino fires.

Attached is one photo that says it all. It represents most of the ridge North above Kamiah. The fire has driven over Lolo Creek, Woodland, Gleenwood, Beaverslide, and Kidder Ridge road was the only evacuating point. I took the picture as we were being driven out of the Kidder Ridge area and the fire was jumping the road and heading to Maggie Creek. The winds are slowing down and that might save Harris Ridge, but as it stands the fire is heading that way....I never could have imagined; this is the perfect storm…..

See what it looks like in the morning.

Scanner traffic at midnight described evacuation notices being delivered in Suttler Creek, which is beyond even Harris Ridge.



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