by Todd Adams
Sometimes all that stands between the public and a dangerous wildfire are a half-dozen volunteers. Stanley firefighters quickly stopped two fires, one caused by an abandoned campfire, from becoming major forest fires on back-to-back days last week.
The second, along Highway 75 near Redfish Lake the afternoon of July 27, had the potential to jump the highway, spread through dry forest fuels toward the popular recreation area and threaten structures, Stanley Fire Chief Andy Gunderson said.
Rapid response of a half-dozen volunteer firefighters in each case prevented a worst-case fear, a major life- and property-threatening wildfire raging through Sawtooth Valley.
The bigger fire burned about a quarter acre on the Sawtooth National Forest in a dispersed campsite south of the intersection of Highway 75 with Redfish Lake Road.
Negligent campers, as yet unidentified, abandoned their campfire, and embers escaped from their fire ring. "There was a little wind so we leaped into action," said Gunderson. The circumstances are under investigation, he said.
Flames ignited and spread through heavy fuels on the ground including downed dead trees and caught standing trees on fire. Flames torched the crowns of a couple of live, green trees.
Afternoon winds and extreme fire danger probably speeded volunteer response, Gunderson said. Stanley firefighters dumped 1,000 gallons on the blaze in one minute, using a high-pressure deck gun on one fire engine. The fire was a "good old rager" when volunteers arrived, but "We put it out," he said. "We deluged it. We got total knockdown."
A crew of Forest Service firefighters dug a hand line around the blaze as Stanley volunteers rapidly emptied the first fire engine, Gunderson said. The Stanley and Forest Service crews hooked hoses to a 3,000-gallon tanker truck during mop-up. Two Stanley engines, the tanker truck, seven volunteers and the Forest Service crew and engine responded.
"It had the potential to jump the highway and go into Redfish," Gunderson said. "We were pretty lucky. We got it knocked down real fast." Stanley firefighters take a rapid response to wildfires very seriously, the chief said. "We call it structure protection," because left alone, any fire sparked in Sawtooth Valley could lead to the big life- and property- threatening blaze that residents fear.
Another magnificent seven Stanley firefighters stopped a smaller fire the night before that was sparked from embers left by a construction crew remodeling a house near Elk Mountain Resort north of town, Gunderson said.
The crew apparently had burned some scrap wood during the day but left some hot embers, which by 9:16 p.m. on July 26, had blown into and ignited a pile of firewood, scrap wood and wooden pallets with landscaping rock. "So, they need a new firewood pile," the chief said.
Only about a tenth of an acre burned, and the house itself wasn't threatened, said Gunderson, although if volunteers hadn't extinguished the blaze, it could have spread down into Valley Creek.
The seven volunteers responded with one engine and one tanker, with others standing by if needed, said Gunderson. It was another rapid response, and firefighters were back at the fire hall an hour after being called out.
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