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Clearwater Complex management organized

Nearly 800 fire personnel had been assigned to fight the 32,000 acre Clearwater Complex fires as of 3 p.m. Aug. 15.

Pictured are personnel and equipment arriving in Kamiah last week.

Photo by Andrew Ottoson
Nearly 800 fire personnel had been assigned to fight the 32,000 acre Clearwater Complex fires as of 3 p.m. Aug. 15. Pictured are personnel and equipment arriving in Kamiah last week.



(This story has been updated. Further updates can be found here.)

Nearly 800 personnel are now working the Clearwater Complex, which now exceeds 32,381 acres in size.

Three Incident Management Teams are currently assigned to the Clearwater Complex and are based in Kamiah, Kooskia and Craigmont. Here's the first major update from Clearwater Complex incident command:

Additional ground and aerial resources have been ordered. Air resources can only fly when weather and smoke conditions are favorable. Multiple lightning caused fires in the complex, in order of priority, are listed below:

Lawyer 2 Fire - Kamiah, Idaho area. The fire made a significant run yesterday afternoon on the east side of the U.S. Highway 12 and the Clearwater River. The areas affected included residences north of town along the Woodland Ridge and Frasure Ridge roads, east to Caribel and south to Nikesa Creek in Church Canyon. By 10:30 p.m. the fire had burned down to the water’s edge directly across the Clearwater River from downtown Kamiah. Firefighters were able to hold onto spot fires on the south side of the river directly south of Hearthstone Lodge just north of the city limits.

Mandatory Evacuations remain in place on the west, north and east sides of Kamiah outside of the city limits. U.S. Highway 12 is still open with a pilot car moving traffic through the fire area north of Kamiah.

Numerous structures on private property were lost or damaged yesterday. Early this morning, the Idaho County Sheriff and his deputies began working with firefighters within the fire area to identify and assess the condition of these structures prior to notifying affected property owners.

Firefighters are actively engaged in structure protection and in identifying the perimeter of the fire area since yesterday’s growth. They are also searching for any spot fires that may have resulted from yesterday’s weather. Additional fires assigned to, and included in, the Lawyer 2 Fire acreage are Carrot Ridge, Old Greer, Kamiah Gulch, Lawyer 6 and Adams Grade.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. yesterday, these fires were estimated at 12,981 acres, with significant growth occurring after that time. Containment is estimated at 15%.

Lolo 2 Fire – South of Weippe, Idaho and north of Woodland, Idaho (Woodland is approx. five miles northeast of Kamiah)

This fire also made a significant run yesterday. By midnight last night, the fire was reported to be near Cottonwood and visible from the Lolo Creek Lodge along the Caribel Road.

There is a spike camp at Frasure Park for firefighters. There are operations on both the north (Weippe) and south (north of Caribel) sides of Lolo Creek Canyon. Firefighters are focusing on work

in Grouse Creek on the east side and securing the west perimeter. Resources on the ground include a hotshot crew, a Type II Initial Attack crew, and local resources totaling approximately 60 firefighters. Firefighters are also doing recon to determine the exact location of the fire perimeter after its run yesterday.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, the fire was estimated at 3,300 acres with significant fire growth occurring after that time.

Fisher Fire – Big Canyon area approximately 7 miles north of Craigmont, Idaho.

Yesterday the Fisher Fire experienced extreme fire behavior and grew in many directions. Early in the day, the fire grew to the north, establishing in Six Mile Canyon, but did not progress much north of the confluence of Six Mile and Big Canyon. By mid-day, severe northerly winds began to affect the fire, pushing it to the south out of Big Canyon in a few areas. To the southwest, the fire continued to grow in stringers of timber in Posthole Canyon towards Airport and Patton roads. To the southeast, the fire spread towards Mohler, burning timber and side-canyons, eventually breaking out onto the prairie, agricultural lands, and crossing highway 62.

Three outbuildings and one unoccupied residence were lost.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuations east of Craigmont in the Mohler area. The evacuations were issued east of Fisher road and west of Hwy 162 (bordering the western edge of Nezperce city limits), and north of the area between the southern end of Fisher Road and Highway 162. At the same time, a Level II evacuation notice was issued to the City of Nezperce, but was later downgraded to Level I as the winds subsided and cooler temperatures moved into the area by the late evening. This morning, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office downgraded the Mohler area to Level II evacuation.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. yesterday, the fire was estimated to be 12,500 acres, with significant growth after that time.

Containment is estimated at 0%

Syringa Fires (Wood Rat and Big Hill fires) - NE of Syringa, Idaho

The Woodrat Fire is estimated at 3,400 acres with 5% containment. The Big Hill Fire is estimated at 100 acres with 10% containment. No additional information is available at this time.

Pilot Knob (Red River, Idaho area). The Red River area was hit heavily by lightning yesterday afternoon, with numerous smoke reports. Recon is ongoing. The original fires are estimated at 100 acres with 0% containment. There is no information available on the size or number of new starts that occurred yesterday.

New Firefighting Resources: Additional ground and air resources remain on order. Fire activity is expected to remain high today. And due to yesterday’s weather event, there is a high potential for spot fires to be located as the day progresses.

Summary: Total Acres within the Complex (as of 4pm yesterday): 32,381

Total fire personnel assigned to the Complex: 774

Update (4 p.m. Saturday): The Red River District has been picking up five to ten new fires a day since Aug. 10.

"At the time of this update, we have only three firefighters available for initial attack of new fires," Red River receptionist Vickie Guthrie said in a release Saturday. "Those already on the ground have been moved around the district as priorities change."

From Guthrie:

Wow! Our firefighters are amazing and are dealing with innumerable challenges. Nationally, all Type 2 (Regional) incident management teams (IMTs) are assigned to incidents. Locally, personnel are working extended hours and days, resulting in extreme fatigue under rough conditions. Additional heavy equipment and air support are almost non-existent. Bottom line: there are more fires than there are firefighters and support to address them. Firefighters and public safety MUST remain the first priority.

The Red River District has been picking up five to ten new fires a day since Aug. 10. At the time of this update, we have only three firefighters available for initial attack of new fires. Those already on the ground have been moved around the district as priorities change.

The majority of the fire activity on the district has occurred in the upper Newsome Creek drainage. Since the storm of Aug. 10, firefighters have successfully put out 16 of those fires. The largest of those remaining is the Baldy Fire north of Pilot Knob Lookout, at roughly 250 acres.

“Wildfires burning in the Syringa and Pilot Knob areas … have been folded into the new Clearwater Complex under the direction of Greg Poncin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team.” The complex includes dozens of fires, among them the Lawyer Fire near Kamiah and the Fisher Fire north of Craigmont. Because of the remote location, heavy smoke and hazardous travel route, although the nearest fire is still more than a mile from the Newsome town site, area landowners have been advised to prepare to evacuate at a moment’s notice. (Also included in this update is a copy of the Forest’s Baldy Fire Area Closure order with attached map.)

The Deadwood Fire near Summit Flats and two miles northwest of the Jerry Walker Cabin is assigned to a Type 3 (Local) IMT. Currently, that fire is the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests’ number one priority. The Bear Fire 1.5 miles east of the Tribal fish facility on the Newsome Road (#1858) is the Forests’ number three priority. Obviously, those priorities will change as the number and location of new fires dictate.

Located near the northern boundary of the Elk City Township on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, the Swale and Swale 2 Fires were ignited August 13 and 14, respectively, by lightning. Both fires are contained, but not controlled.

On the south end of our world, the Payette National Forest is monitoring and doing point protection (essentially taking structure protection measures) on a fire at Campbell’s Ferry. Their fire personnel are in close contact with ours and are keeping us advised of fire behavior and conditions.

Cooler temperatures and slightly higher humidity are in the forecast, along with breezy west winds. New fires are expected.

As you travel along the roads and highways, please be cognizant of fire and other emergency traffic.

From Red River District Ranger Terry Nevius:

Terry Nevius, District Ranger for the Red River Ranger District, urges all members of the public to stay out of fire areas. Private individuals have been found on fire lines attempting to “help” us. Unfortunately, at the same time, it put both them and fire personnel needlessly in increased danger.

One of the most important duties for some firefighters is “look out;” that is, monitoring all aspects of a fire in order to keep tract of its location, behavior, and movement. When the firefighter is forced to change focus to remove an individual, that look out is no longer effective and could potentially result in disastrous consequences.

If you feel you must view a fire, please find a place devoid of fire, fire personnel and emergency fire traffic.

If you have any questions or need more information, please call the District Office at 208-842-2245.

Update (4:30 p.m. Saturday): A community meeting will be held at 5 p.m. this evening at the Pierce Community Center regarding the Motorway Complex, which includes 50 backcountry fires in the Lochsa and North Fork ranger districts. From the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests:

Strong winds caused growth on fires throughout the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests yesterday, with dry lightning sparking additional new starts. On a tough day for firefighters, lightning consistently set off new fires, ignitions grew quickly and fires spread rapidly. With resources stretched thin, the Forest’s fire managers are concentrating on protecting communities and road corridors.

Fifty backcountry fires in the Lochsa and North Fork Ranger Districts have been combined into the Motorway Complex. The fires are being monitored and resources will be assigned as they become available. No communities are at risk.

A community meeting will be held at 5 p.m. this evening at the Pierce Community Center. District Ranger Andrew Skowlund and Fire Management Officer Mike Lubke will talk about the fire situation and answer questions. Columns from the Motorway Complex are visible from Pierce, but pose no threat to the town.

Temperatures are slightly lower after passage of the cold front yesterday and winds breezy, with fuels remaining extremely dry. “The conditions are moderating, but we desperately need relative humidities to come up and/or rain,” said Fuels Specialist Barry Ruklic.

Firefighters fought hard yesterday to catch the Sugarloaf Fire, about four miles south of Harpster.

Smokejumpers and rappellers, with support from single-engine air tankers, managed to hold the fire to less than an acre. With the area too smokey to jump, the smokejumpers were driven to the fire.

Another success yesterday was the Swale 2 Fire, four miles northwest of Elk City, which was held to 1.5 acres. About half the perimeter of the 75-acre Deadwood Fire, three miles southwest of Elk City, now has dozer line in place.

Firefighters on the Payette National Forest are doing point protection on a fire at Campbell’s Ferry and keeping in touch with Nez Perce-Clearwater fire managers across the Salmon River.

Update (4:30 p.m. Saturday): There has been a Level II Evacuation issued for the Greer Grade up to MP 7.5, per Clearwater County's Facebook page.

Update (6 p.m. Saturday): Idaho County commissioner Skip Brandt said "lots of folks were able to defend their homes and property during last night's fire storm." From Brandt:

The fire did die down last night after the winds stopped (around 11-11:30 p.m.) and thus it did not go down into Maggie Creek. Even a group of trees at the top of the Beaverslide (road) that I saw the fire just starting into last night as we pulled away are still green this morning. Some areas looked like they were nuked and others areas the fire stayed down low and just burned the grassy vegetation.

Lots of folks were able to defend their homes and property during last night’s fire storm....The storm is not over yet! The fire(s) are still burning with only some being contained. However there is not supposed to be any more wind like last night nor thunderstorm activities for a week. There were a couple of new spot fires reported this today; one lower down on Lolo Creek and one on the Greer Grade.

The Orofino fire started behind Konkleville mill (now TriPro), went to the top and is still burning toward the radio station. They lost one house for sure but think that could be five or 10. But again that fire is not contained.

The resources that we have are the resources that we will get because of all the other fires burning in the West. So the smoke will drag on until the weather changes.

Update (6 p.m. Saturday): Idaho Red Cross chief development officer Chris Davis said "the majority of our needs for items have been met by generous community members and corporate partners. We can let you know if we run into additional unmet needs in this regard. Our greatest need right now are financial donations to underwrite some of the other expenses of this response."

From the Red Cross:

The American Red Cross of Idaho and Montana is providing disaster relief to the evacuees of several major wildfires across the region. The Red Cross is providing food, water, shelter, needed supplies, emotional support and other assistance to people forced from their homes by the fires.

“The Red Cross is closely monitoring conditions in both states and we are stepping up relief efforts where they are needed,” said Nicole Sirak-Irwin, CEO of the American Red Cross of Idaho and Montana. “We are mobilizing all our trained volunteers and prepositioning supplies to respond to the escalating emergency.”

There are two Red Cross shelters in Kooskia.

• The first Red Cross shelter is located at the Clearwater Valley Elementary School at 306 Pine Avenue.

• A second Red Cross shelter was opened last night at City Hall at 26 Main Street.

People who have been affected by a disaster can register themselves on the Red Cross Safe & Well website at redcross.org/safeandwell, to let their family and friends know that they are OK. They can also call 1-866-GET-INFO to register.

“The Red Cross is an independent, charitable organization and relies on public support to conduct its relief efforts,” said Sirak-Irwin. “Every single donation helps.”

To help the people affected by disasters like the Idaho and Montana wildfires, make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters.

In Idaho, please visit www.redcross.org/idaho or call 1-800-853-0573. Contributions may also be sent to American Red Cross of Greater Idaho, 5371 W. Franklin Road, Boise, ID 83705

Update (8:15 p.m. Saturday): Here's a summary of what the Clearwater Complex incident command said at the 4 p.m. public meeting in Kamiah, via Flying B Ranch:

Arby called following the meeting to let us know the main points. There was a lot of information and a lot of questions, so he briefed us on the general high points as follows from the fire personnel speaking at the fire meeting:

-- Officials are now estimating loss of homes in Clearwater Complex could be closer to 50 homes and 75 outbuildings, but they cannot confirm an exact number at this time.

-- They do not forecast making major progress on perimeter containment with current conditions at this time.

-- Their 2 main goals over the next couple days with milder weather and little to no wind are: first... protecting homes from advancing fire and also from hot spots near homes in the burned areas that could flare up again.... second is minimizing hot spots that could flare up and ignite larger fuel sources

-- Tuesday is their next day of concern with the forecast showing possible thunder and lightening storms and high winds which could cause substantial fire growth and new fire starts

-- They briefly mentioned the fire off of Michigan Ave. in Orofino behind the IGA/ DMV area, not much information available yet.

-- There is the Fisher Fire near Craigmont/ Nez Perce that they are working on as well.

-- They acknowledged that there are two fires on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, the Woodrat Fire (online estimated at 3,400 acres and 0% containment) and the Big Hill Fire (online estimated at 100 acres and 15% containment) but at this time they are not working on suppression for the Woodrat Fire due to other priorities at this time but they are being monitored.

-- There are relief funds set up at the local Kamiah Community Credit Union as well as the American Red Cross. The Red Cross has shelters located in Kooskia and the Nazarene Church and Life Center Church in Kamiah are also set up for shelters.

Update (10 p.m. Saturday): The Clearwater Complex is now 52,759 in size, with 775 personnel working the fires. Here's the IMT's full report:

Three Incident Management Teams are currently assigned to the Clearwater Complex and are based in Kamiah, Kooskia and Craigmont, Idaho. Additional ground and aerial resources have been ordered. Air resources can only fly when weather and smoke conditions are favorable. Multiple lightning caused fires in the complex, in order of priority, are listed below:

Lawyer 2 Fire – Kamiah area. The areas west of Kamiah experienced moderate fire behavior. Some sections of the perimeter were placed in patrol status while resources were transferred to the Woodland area for structure protection. Mop up and cold-trailing operations were also conducted around yesterday’s weather-caused spot fires.

Mandatory Evacuations remain in place on the west, north and east sides of Kamiah outside of the city limits. U.S. Highway 12 is still open but may periodically have a pilot car moving traffic through the fire area north of Kamiah.

An estimated total of 50 primary structures and 75 outbuildings were lost due to wind driven fire activity. Early this morning, the Idaho County Sheriff and his deputies began working with firefighters within the fire area to identify and assess the condition of these structures prior to notifying affected property owners. Structure protection remained a high priority throughout the fire area.

Additional fires assigned to, and included in, the Lawyer 2 Fire acreage are Old Greer, Kamiah Gulch, Lawyer 6 and Adams Grade.

At approximately 4 p.m., Aug. 15, these fires were estimated at 20,580 acres and 15% containment.

Lolo 2 Fire – South of Weippe and north of Woodland (Woodland is approximately five miles northeast of Kamiah)

Significant progress was made putting line around the southwest, Woodland, and Harrisburg perimeters. Hot shot crews conducted some firing operations to remove ladder fuels. Land owners also provided significant assistance in structure protection which remained a high priority.

At approximately 4 p.m., Aug. 15, the fire was estimated at 3,300 and 0% containment.

Fisher Fire – Big Canyon area approximately 7 miles north of Craigmont.

This area experienced less wind today providing firefighters an opportunity to construct fireline along most of the north side. Most of the resources were from the Grangeville taskforce but local ranchers provided much needed support.

Evacuations will remain in place as there is still active fire on the landscape.

At approximately 4 p.m. Aug. 15, the fire was estimated at 20,000 acres and 0% containment.

Syringa Fires (Wood Rat and Big Hill fires) - northeast of Syringa

The Woodrat Fire is estimated at 3,400 acres with 5% containment. The Big Hill Fire is estimated at 100 acres with 10% containment. No additional information is available at this time.

Pilot Knob (Red River area). The fire area estimated at 100 acres with 0% containment. No additional information is available at this time.

New Firefighting Resources: We received two additional air resources today. One is a black hawk helicopter from the National Guard. The other will be assisting with recon.

(This story has been updated. Further updates can be found here.)



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