Fire burns to edge of Sun Valley ski resort |

Fire burns to edge of Sun Valley ski resort

John Miller
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Elaine Thompson/APFirefighters watch as a helicopter gets ready to make a drop near them as billowing clouds of smoke boil behind Tuesday.

KETCHUM, Idaho ” Gusty winds stoked a wildfire Tuesday above this central Idaho resort town, pushing flames near the borders of the Sun Valley Resort ski area even as air tankers and helicopters armed with red retardant made passes at five-minute intervals.

The Castle Rock fire, which has ebbed and flowed around this town as it burned more than 64 square miles of spruce, fir and pine trees, leapt to life again Tuesday afternoon, keeping crews busy at their station near a summit lodge adorned with fading pictures of Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper and Tyrone Power, past visitors to the resort founded in 1936.

Amid the smoke, managers opted to leave ski lifts running ” not for people, but to keep errant flames from cooking cables that ferry more than 200,000 visitors up the slopes each winter.

Blaine County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents of homes located west of the Warm Springs Bridge, in the northern part of town.

Ketchum has already canceled the traditional Labor Day weekend’s Wagon Days when 10,000 guests usually come to town.

The fire started Aug. 17 with a lightning strike. No structures have burned.

With the latest evacuation order, about 2,000 homes are affected. Sixty Idaho Army and Air National Guard soldiers were assisting residents, going door to door in the Warm Springs area to make sure they followed the mandatory order, said Bettyann Mummert, a local Red Cross official.

They were being evacuated to the Blaine County Community Campus, located in Hailey, 12 miles south of Ketchum.

“This latest evacuation order was due to the fire conditions, the burnout operations and the increased possibility for fire spotting,” said Bob Beanblossum, a fire information officer. “The fire activity is still currently outside the ski area boundaries.”

He said the concern is that embers could start spot fires in the Warm Springs neighborhood.

A wall of smoke greets visitors driving State Highway 75 into the Wood River Valley, where the ski area is located. Many of the nearby mountains are obscured.

Jack Sibbach, a spokesman for the Sun Valley Co. that runs the 71-year-old, 510-room resort, said accommodations were roughly 90 percent full, though guests had begun some cancellations, including a 36-person group that opted to leave the valley.

“We understand safety has to come first,” Sibbach said.

He praised the more than 1,650 fire personnel from across the nation who are fighting what officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, are calling the region’s top priority blaze. That’s in part because more than half of Blaine County’s $12 billion in net taxable value is in homes located in Sun Valley and Ketchum, both towns potentially in the fire’s path.

With planes flying overhead, helicopters buzzing the ridgetop and smoke obscuring vision, firefighters compared the area to a historic battle scene.

“Makes you wonder what Pearl Harbor was like,” said group supervisor Brad Martin, surrounded by firefighters directing sprinkler hoses at structures.

Support Local Journalism