Some Idaho Residents Stay Planted Despite Wildfire Threat

Aug. 13--Some Pine residents are digging in their heels when it comes to evacuation. The town is threatened by the 90,249-acre Elk Complex fire, which began Thursday after several lightning-sparked fires burned together.

The Elk Complex is currently the number one priority fire in the nation, and the second-largest in acreage.

The smoke from Elk Complex fire, and the nearly 144,000-acre Pony Complex fire -- which is burning on the other (west) side of the South Fork of the Boise River from Elk Complex -- were creating poor air quality and hazy conditions in the Treasure Valley. A yellow alert is in effect, and outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties, and all of the cities within those counties.

On Monday, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued a stage 1 advisory for Boise and Elmore counties, meaning all open burning is banned in Boise and Elmore counties. The advisory is in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday.

More than 600 Idaho Power customers were without electricity in the areas of Pine, Featherville and Anderson Ranch Dam. The water supply was also disrupted, according to the utility, and Idaho Power crews had been pulled from some places due to safety concerns. Another 80 customers near Prairie and Mountain Home were also without power; the utility pledged to fix that "as quickly and as safely as possible."

Four fire engines and two brush trucks from the Boise, Meridian, Eagle and Donnelly fire departments arrived in Pine at about 1 a.m. Monday -- help made possible by Gov. Butch Otter declaring a state wildfire disaster.

Allen Kiester, one of the owners of the Pine Resort stood outside Monday, watching helicopters dump water and crews dig a fire line not far from his business.

"Man, oh man, look at that," he said, watching a heat convection send swirling fire very near an engine parked on the fire line.

Although power and water were cut off for the building, the Pine Resort is staying open -- and Kiester is staying put.

"This is my home," he said. "I'll be the last one to leave when they leave."

The business owner is running generators to keep the power going. He said he prepared for fire season by cutting down nearby trees and stockpiling water and other resources.

"We own all of that, and we don't need it to burn," he said.

No homes in Pine have burned, but residents near Fall Creek, about ten miles from Pine, were not as lucky.

Several structures in that area are believed to have been lost to the flames, but an assessment team has not yet determined how many burned. Fallen timber on the roads was making it difficult for the team to access Fall Creek, a fire official said, and it will likely be several days until the exact count is known.

Fall Creek Lodge is still standing, officials said.

Kiester praised the crews who were protecting the small town.

"I think they're doing just fine," he said.

And in turn, the resort owner was trying to provide assistance to the fire crews who needed it.

"We're not going to deny nobody," he said. "Right now if anybody needs diesel or anybody needed water or needed food, we're here."

Kiester has been in the area since 1989, he said. He said a number of residents left, made nervous by the flames visible form their houses. Many took RVs and boats down to Anderson Ranch Reservoir to park them near the water before they left.

"A lot of people did leave, and it's their choice," he said. "Everybody has their little car full of personal stuff."

Lesleen Kober said the fires made her nervous too, but she couldn't bring herself to walk away.

"I was scared to death yesterday," the 12-year resident of Pine said. "It's boiling up big-time back up behind our place."

Although Kober knows August in Idaho is synonymous with wildfire, she said it was jarring to see it so close to her home.

"In the last twelve years, you have a fire [every year,] you expect a fire," she said "You just don't expect it in your back yard."

Still, Kober said she trusted in the firefighters that have come from around the country -- from as far away as Florida and New Jersey -- to help the small community . Monday, crews were digging fire lines, making water and retardant drops and and providing structure protection.

"I am 100 percent confident in what we have on the ground and in the air," she said.

She said she was relieved that the fast-moving blaze would be out of their area soon, although the Elk Complex in its entirety would be harder to quell.

"It probably won't be out until the snow flies," she said. But as long as crews were able to keep the blaze away from structures, she was happy, she said.

Kober's husband is an EMT and she is an EMT in training. Leaving now would feel like abandoning the community when it needed her the most, she said.

"We can't leave our locals without help," she said.

Kober said two-thirds of the people in her neighborhood were staying.

"I really just think everyone has confidence in the structure ground protection they've set up, and the ground crew and the air crew," she said. "They're doing a good job so far."

Butch Glinesky stood on his porch, eating a sandwich as he watched the fire creep over the ridge behind the home he shares with his wife, Gloria.

A pumpkin filled with water sat in the yard. When it sprung a leak, he fixed it with tape.

Like Kober and Kiester, Glinesky said he felt compelled to stay.

"I know the area, and I feel like I can just offer some help," he said. Last year, he let firemen inside to use the bathroom and provided a shady place for them to eat lunch. Still, he conceded that he did not want to get in the way.

Glinesky said he felt safe in the area. He had already gotten rid of tall grass around the home, and wetted the area down. Although a few trees remain around the house, he said that if the fire reached the spot where they were planted, it would already be too late for the home.

Glinesky said he had fire danger in mind when he kept only a few trees in the yard.

"We have an number of neighbors with trees all around them, and I would be worried," he said.

But Glinesky wasn't worried. He said he was prepared to take the fight into his own hands. An antique fire truck sits in the field in front of his house: Glinesky said he would use the engine and its1,000 gallon tank to protect his home if need be.

The homeowner fixed the 1944 Studebaker truck this summer; it had not run since 1983.

"Now it runs like a top," he said. "It doesn't leak a drop."

Copyright 2013 - The Idaho Statesman

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