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The Fires Of September - Idaho In Smoke

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A road trip is not always just about spectacular scenery, friendly people, and new menus. Sometimes it is about little unpleasantries.


Sheila and I had spent a few days in the Sun Valley area of Idaho in the charming town of Hailey, which not incidentally has some great early auto travel history.....more about that in other posts. Leaving, we decided to head toward Spokane, via the magnificent Stanley Basin with its Sawtooth peaks sitting nearly on your lap.


What we didn't fully consider was the effect of two gigantic fires, one directly on our path, the Sheep fire. I couldn't get up to date fire information from my normal sources (e.g. DOT), but there are sites devoted just to forest fires, which show pretty good maps. The Sheep fire had started along our route on US95 but by now had burned north and east so the fire lines were miles away from the road.


Between Ketchem on State 75 and Smiley Creek the scenery was magnificent, The effects of the fires had not reached that far south. But by the time we reached the Stanley Basin the smoke had spread out on the high meadows, so the Sawtooth Mountains I know from my youth were fussy but not obscured. The riverside motel in Stanley where I had stayed in my 20's was being torn down and replaced with new motel (opps, “lodge” ) rooms, modeled on the old, but with innerspring mattresses, and without the rickety wood screen doors and prominent water heaters in each room. The old wooden bridge across the river was still there but the construction trucks scared me off.






















We picked up state 55 toward McCall, where we planned to spend the night. It was a little hazy but still nice. The next morning we headed north and picked up US 95 via Riggins. We were driving north along the now wide and deep Salmon River, and things started to get nasty.


The problem was that fires make smoke and smoke is heavier than air. We were driving through the Salmon River canyon, and it served as an effective container for the smoke. Boating on the river was closed. Our eyes burned and oncoming cars came with their headlights on out of a midday bank of smoke.























Fire crews were encamped in hundreds of tents and copters with their blades still turning were parked at Forest Service sites. The whole scene was almost other worldly....big ugly trucks, scary copters, and the bivouac of the marine commandos......opps this was a forest fire, not Hollywood!















(As late as yesterday, September 27, the Idaho Sheep fire we had passed by was only 41% contained, had burned 48,000 acres, and was being fought by 400 crew, 4 copters, and 16 engines.)


The smoke from the fires blanketed western Idaho and eastern Washington, giving everything a soft outline, and producing some great sunsets. They were on the national news, and your faithful reporter was there.....more or less by accident. By the way, we never saw as much as a match flame.


Keep the Show on the Road!



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Excellent photos, thanks for posting them. Wonder why the USFS was only using 'copters, no C-130s? Terrain too rugged? Anyway, my hat is off to the fire fighters!

Drove Idaho 21 from Stanley to Boise back in '09. Magnificent drive, but I have never been on any winding, mountain road with more mule deer both on and right along the highway. Scary, especially when we came upon a deer/car collision that had just happened right before we came upon it. People were stopped (car was overturned), but no ambulance/paramedics yet. They were still some miles down the road, heading up from Idaho City. I wonder if the poor guy in the car made it...

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I'll need to make note of the fire conditions when I get a chance to drive along the Salmon River. Looks like beautiful scenery when the smoke isn't thick in the air. Of course, I would be looking for the scary copters with my camera at the ready.


It makes sense that you would be seeing the copters flying within the valley as they were likely dunking in river before heading back to the fire. The fixed wing hardware was likely working the fire but would be replenishing their retardant at a fixed base somewhere. Although, a lot of the big hardware like early model C-130's have been grounded due to accidents.


Thanks for the report Dave!



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Great trip report and great pictures. Your pictures immediately took me back nearly 65 years to October 1947 when I lived thru the big fires in southern Maine. It was a scary time and tho much destroyed, a lot was saved simply by a wind shift. Some people were stubborn and refused to leave their homes - if they stayed they saved the house with no more than a garden hose and if the water pressure failed there were buckets of water and a broom. 65 years later it's a vivid memory and reports such as your road trip bring it back, vividly and emotionally. Perhaps on the upside it was exciting for a 10 year old to see the fire trucks rumbling thru town and big tractor trailer tankers hauling water to the fire lines - no fire bombing airplanes or choppers in those far away days.



Alex Burr

Memphis, TN

Edited by Alex Burr - hester_nec
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What a great reply!!


There are a few of us here on the forum who have the “gift of age,” the vision that only comes with time and experiences, that makes a road trip like a movie story. As a young man I was impressed by the grandeur, the excitement, the adventure of the road. There was something different at every turn and it was all new to me.


Today some of that is still there, but not as often. What has replaced it is the magic of my mind. I now have the connections, the memories, the back story if you wish. The art deco movie theater in Hailey, Idaho isn't just pretty, it is Flash Gordon, Wizard of Oz, and every Saturday matinee when I hoped to win the Schwinn with the torpedo headlight and horn.


Thanks for the come back!




Keep the Show on the Road

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Nice photos, Dave. Idaho seems to be on fire quite often, there was a big fire in the Stanley area last time

I was there about seven years ago.


Do you use this link for fires?





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