Hanover Fire defies initial attack; now tops 5,000 acres

Public meeting in Riggins Aug. 9

Northern Rockies Incident Management Team (IMT) operations section chief Brad Gillespie described how the IMT will approach fighting the Hanover Fire, which is presently burning east of Florence, having blown up to more than 2,000 acres Aug. 1. The fire has prompted agencies to set a large closure area (bordered in purple on the pictured map) to cordon off public access to the fire area (in red).

Photo by Andrew Ottoson


Northern Rockies Incident Management Team (IMT) operations section chief Brad Gillespie described how the IMT will approach fighting the Hanover Fire, which is presently burning east of Florence, having blown up to more than 2,000 acres Aug. 1. The fire has prompted agencies to set a large closure area (bordered in purple on the pictured map) to cordon off public access to the fire area (in red).

Fire restrictions in effect Aug. 9

The first stage of fire restrictions went into effect shortly after midnight Aug. 9, when the cooperative group of federal, state, tribal and private land managers announced bans on fires such as campfires and stove fires. The restrictions, known as Stage 1 Fire Restrictions, also limit smoking, and are in effect in an area south of Highway 12, west of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests boundary, east of the Snake River, and within the “dogleg” along U.S. Highway 95 from Slate Creek to Gotzinger, including the Idaho side of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Those who have written permits are exempt, and other exemptions apply.

Current information about fire restrictions is online at idahofireinfo.com, where a legal description of the restricted area, a detailed map, and updates can be found.

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Several SEATs (single-engine air tankers) were parked at the ready on the tie-down at the Idaho County Airport last Friday, Aug. 4

— After the Hanover Fire outpaced initial attack last week, it sent up the telltale column of smoke that marked the start of what is sure to be a busy month for local firefighters. A second public meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. MT Aug. 9 in Riggins, at the Salmon River High School gym.

Despite the local response, which began shortly after the fire was detected at about 12:30 p.m. Aug. 1, the firefighting effort saw rapid growth in the size of the fire.

“With this fire, because of its close proximity to all those values I mentioned, we went for full suppression,” Salmon River district ranger Jeff Shinn told a crowd of about 20 who turned out for the first public meeting, Monday night, Aug. 7, at the Grangeville Senior Center. “We sent smokejumpers. We sent engines. We sent everything we could at this. … Our intent, knowing it was Aug. 1, knowing there was a lot of fire season left, my thought was what I said out loud. I wouldn’t mind letting some fire burn in the wilderness, but this is not the right fire to do that. Then the fire told me otherwise.”

“This was right on the [wilderness] boundary,” Shinn had explained. “We’ve got timber sales, we’ve got the townsite of Florence, we’ve got homes, we’ve got infrastructure, we’ve got grazing allotments, we’ve got a lot of values in here. We’ve also got the recreation that goes along the Salmon River corridor. … Our plan was to suppress this fire immediately. Most of you probably saw the column that came up.”

It reached 2,000 acres before the following afternoon. The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests sought help through the national incident management system, and an incident management team (IMT) arrived Friday, Aug. 4, for which the meetings serve as an introduction to the local public.

The morning of Aug. 7, a new and wider closure order was issued to include much of the area east of the forest boundary above Slate Creek, west to the Gospel Hump Wilderness boundary, as well as a wide swath of wilderness. The closure area is bounded by parts of forest roads 221, 354, 441, 536 and the Salmon River Road from its junction with 221 to its junction with the Wind River Pack Bridge. The eastern edge follows the trail, 312, from the Wind River Pack Bridge north to Forest Road 444.

“Working with the sheriff’s department, we’ve been working to establish the closure and keep the traffic out,” Shinn said. “What we came up with is big. When people look at that, they think wow, that’s a big area. The reason for that is, from a management perspective, if you’ve been in this area at all and you’ve seen the road system and you’ve driven these roads, you know you can’t block the access in here to this fire. There are concerns for public safety. We backed it out to areas we knew we could control the access. As soon as we can, we’ll try to shrink that back.”

In addition to members of the general public and owners whose property could be directly affected were officials with the Idaho Department of Lands and Idaho County Sheriff’s Office.

As of Tuesday morning, Aug. 8, the fire had burned 5,915 acres and was being worked by 282 personnel including a total of seven different crews, eight engines and three helicopters, as well as heavy equipment including dozers, feller bunchers, skidders, a skidgine, log loaders and a processor, much of which was requisitioned from nearby timber operations.

In addition to disrupting local activities such as the GHS football kids camp, which was cancelled due to poor air quality, smoke had reduced visibility enough to hinder air support. The smoke in the area was produced mainly by fires outside of the region.

Weather reports call for “no chance of significant rainfall” this week, though thunderstorms are possible.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater listed four other thousand-acre fires in its Aug. 7 update: on the Lochsa/Powell Ranger District, the Hidden Fire (2,815 acres); on the Moose Creek Ranger District, the Moose Creek 1 Fire (6,449 acres) and the Lone Pine Fire (4,867 acres); and on the Red River Ranger District, the Rattlesnake Point Fire (2,514 acres).

Also on Aug. 7, the Payette National Forest announced a fire closure order for the Chamberlain Airstrip due to the Highline Fire (4,500 acres), which, like the Rattlesnake Point Fire, is burning in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, south of the Salmon River, more than nine miles east of Dixie.

Current information on most large fires, including the Hanover Fire, can be found through the national incident management system webpage, inciweb.nwcg.gov.

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