What happens when you drive into a forest fire?
Chuck and I had three days at the end of our vacation before returning to Tallahassee, so we decided to take a trip north on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway in Idaho. Our plan was to make a loop up into the mountains from the east and then drive back down to Boise from the west using the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway.
We drove north of Burley and picked up the scenic byway in Shoshone driving toward Hailey, Idaho on SR 75. We got to Hailey about 6 pm and grabbed a bite to eat at the very good Cafe at the Brewery.
This is a charming town of about 8,000 people located in the Wood River Valley. Their claim to fame is Demi Moore and Ezra Pound. Great place to walk on its streets and people watch after dinner.
Everywhere we go people are watching the Olympics on the big screen TVs in these bars. Tonight we watched the women’s USA beach volleyball team play the Brazilians. Unfortunately for us, the Brazilians won.
I picked up a trail map of suggested hikes around Hailey. What a great place to hike. There are shady hikes by rivers and streams and lofty ridge-line hikes high above. The terrain here makes it ideal. It reminded me of the areas around Durango.
We cannot take the time to hike much, though, because we have a long way to go through the mountains back to Boise. I guess we’re just doing reconnaissance today.
We spent the night here at the Wood River Inn and then struck out the next morning. The scenic part of the drive really does not begin until after the town of Ketcham, Idaho, which is a ski town.
Ketcham is small, and we decided to stop and take a walk. We were disappointed. The traffic was loud and a total nuisance. This town needs a truck route.
The stores were overpriced even though there were sales everywhere. I found their sale items even way overpriced. I saw a cute sweater coat in a store, but it was $795. This place is not for us.
By the way this town sits in Sun Valley, and the ski resort is close by. That is probably why it is so overpriced. Maybe this is the Aspen of Idaho.
A walk signal kept us waiting for what seemed like forever (even Chuck was complaining); and the whole time the traffic was deafening, so we just decided to turn around and walk back to our car. This might have been a good place to have lunch but it is only about 11 am. We decided to drive on.
After Ketcham where the scenic part of this highway really began, the traffic disappeared. The road ran east to west, and the mountain range to our north was truly beautiful and majestic.
We can see why this is called the Sawtooth Range. Its high ridge line is jagged. The road is mostly easy, though, following through a long valley with mountains on each side.
Just before we got to the end of the valley we saw a sign that said that in the winter snow chains were needed ahead, and then we began to climb. The views up on the summit were awesome, though somewhat obscured by the smoke.
We learned last night that there is a large forest fire south of us. Since this road eventually turns south to go to Boise, we wondered if the fire would pose a problem. Our drive may go through this area, but we have heard nothing about closures.
We also worried a little about how we could reverse our direction if they did close the area. There is only one road south to Boise. The return would be s long one.
We stopped at the Church Overlook and tried to take pictures, but it is very smoky. The two pictures below show my picture n top and he the same area looks on a clearer day. The bottom photo is a Wikimedia picture.
On the other side of the summit, we drove back down into a large, deep valley, where we stopped to eat at the Smiley Creek Lodge and restaurant. We always enjoy stopping to dine. We are not fast food eaters. We take our time to eat and relax. I read that there is good hiking here, and this lodge looks like a good place to stay.
The Salmon River also follows SR 75, and we are near its headwaters. I spent some time on this River near Idaho’s eastern state line several days ago while on the Lewis & Clark Trail.
It is still so smoky, and while at lunch we read that this fire is all around Lowman, Idaho, which is where we have a room reserved for the evening. The fire is called the Pioneer fire. The article though just says that the fire is near, and there has been no evacuation order for Lowman. We cannot tell if the fire is near where we are staying. We also have no phone service here.
There are patches of aspens here and there. When the wind blows, they shimmer green. They have yet to begin turning. We are driving toward Stanley, Idaho. We also stopped and hiked several times down to the river. Chuck is always looking for a good fishing hole.
Finally, we reached Stanley. There are some stores and inns in Stanley; but this is where we turned left and began driving south to Boise on SR 21. We only stopped for a few minutes.
We were then on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway. It ran through forests and mountains.
Just south of Stanley there had been a recent wildfire. We crossed three swaths of what looked like retardant. It was red and stained across the road with a path on each side of the road. It looked like it had been air dropped perpendicular to the road.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but we are now officially in the Pioneer fire.
We stopped in Lohman near where we were staying for the night. Both of us had to use the facilities, and it was around 4 pm. So we stopped at a Cafe called Haven Hot Springs, and we ordered a piece of the cafe’s coconut cream pie made by the owner, who was also our waitress. The pie was the best I had ever tasted, and the slice could have fed our entire family including the grandkids.
We talked to her for quite some time. She was from Florida having been raised in Sarasota. Outside of the cafe was a Confederate flag that said, “Heritage, Not Hate.”
Someone in the cafe said that none of us sounded like we were from Florida. I guess because of our southern accents. So I explained that it is because so many people from the north have moved into Florida that no one remembers what we sound like anymore.
We learned from the waitress that her parents were part of the circus down in Sarasota, but that they didn’t want her to have a career in the circus. So now she lives in Idaho.
Also just outside the window by our table was a bird dog and a hummingbird feeder hanging above just under the eave. The bird dog kept watching for something on the ground and appeared to be pointing. Everyone who walked by looked around on the ground to see what was going on.
We learned from the waitress that the dog points the shadows of the hummingbirds on the ground. Poor thing. He needs to come to Monticello so he can point real game.
We finally left and found our lodging for the evening at the Sourdough Inn. The Sourdough Restaurant was there, too. It was full of firemen taking a break from fighting the fire. Everyone was sweaty and dirty. Fighting fires is tough work. There are signs everywhere thanking them for their help and dedication.
After dinner we took a good long walk and later we got to see one of the gigantic fire fighting helicopters fly down and back up the stream. He had what appeared to be a big hose hanging down underneath. Everything was super smoky.
Around 11 pm I walked outside the cabin to see if I could see the glow from the forest fire, but the moon was too bright. Chuck was already asleep. Everything was aglow. We both wondered earlier if sometime during the night we might get a knock on the door to evacuate.
We had breakfast in the restaurant, soudough pancakes. Yum! The restaurant was full of firefighters and locals. All the talk was about fire jumping and other such specialty fire fighting.
And then we began driving on south down Idaho 21 toward Boise. We have about 80 miles to go. If we have to turn around at this point, it will be about 240 miles of mountain driving and another 175 miles of interstate driving to get to Boise from here. There is no other road back because the other road that goes west is closed due to this same fire.
In the Boise National Forest, we noticed that all the roads to the right as we traveled south were already closed. The fire must be in that direction. We had no idea that the fire was all around us.
In Lohman, we saw their fire camp. It was huge.
We also stopped at a historical marker which told the story about the fire of 1989 and the fire storm that developed. Folks up here talk about fires like we talk about hurricanes in Florida.
South of Lohman the road began to climb in a series of switchbacks. We stopped to take photos over and over as it got higher. I guess we were afraid that we might miss the best scenic view. The views were awesome but smoky.
We drove through an area that had a sign that said fire activity ahead. There was a firefighter standing by a closed road with a radio in his hand. The area ahead was an area of patchy flared spots. You could tell that they had it contained here but there were flare ups to watch for. We wondered if that was his job.
Every time we thought we were past the forest fire area, we would run into a new one. This happened for many miles.
About thirteen miles north of Idaho City we finally ran out of the fires. There were two more swaths of fire retardant that had been dropped across the road here.
We never saw another fire past this point, but there were three ambulances and EMTs waiting in a small camp at Moore Summit’s roadside park.
We drove 29 miles through this fire. We never saw flames, but lots of smoldering areas, lots of wood already burned down, and lots of forest fire men and equipment. One time we passed a school bus full of men and women going up to the fires. We have seen several women firefighters up here, too.
While we were there, this fire was over 86,000 acres in size; and there were over 1,800 personnel assigned to the Pioneer forest fire. They had it 50% contained.
We stopped for lunch in Idaho City, but it was nothing to write home about. Between Idaho City and Boise, there was one more nice drive. We drove along the stream which was dammed and the entire canyon above the dam is a reservoir. It was a beautiful scenic drive and the last one of our vacation.
Just before we went to dinner in Boise, we saw what looked like a new big flare in the mountains, a giant plume of smoke boiling up; but we learned enough to know that this could have been the Forest Service lighting a backfire. We just weren’t sure.
We went home the next day.
Today, I checked into the Pioneer forest fire, and it increased to over 100,000 acres in size. There are now over 2,000 personnel assigned to this forest fire. They have it about 48% contained, but it threatened a town named Pioneerville.
Here in Florida, even with an average of over 60 inches of rainfall a year, we still have droughts and forest fire (s). Florida has over 25 million acres of forests.
Two of our Florida Forest Service crews were sent to help Colorado with their forest fire last week (Meeker & Dinosaur Monument, CO), and I just learned today that another crew is being sent to California to the Soberanes Fire at Diablo Mountain near Monterrey. My cousin is with that crew.
While we drove through the Pioneer Forest Fire last week, the Florida crew at Dinosaur Monument was dropped into their fire by helicopter.
Godspeed to all our country’s forest fire fighters who are doing all they can to keep all of us and our property safe.