Crews making headway on North Idaho fires

Hagadone News Network | September 10, 2020 1:00 AM

Firefighters spent Tuesday slowing a pair of wildfires in North Idaho — a blaze outside Blanchard and a fire that crept up Bernard Peak, south of Bayview.

The Bernard Fire, which started as a small fire near the southern shore of Lake Pend Oreille Monday, reached 150 acres as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The good news is that the fire remains approximately a half-mile south of Bayview; its residents were not under evacuation orders.

The bad news, however, is that because of its isolated location, the terrain is making life difficult for crews. A total of three engines, a lead plane, an air attack plane and two large air tankers continue to battle the blaze after high winds carried the fire uphill.

The fire near Blanchard — dubbed the Hunter 2 Fire — reached 700 acres Monday, but a shifting of the winds actually blew the flames back in toward the already-burned terrain, giving local officials optimism that crews are gaining ground.

“I’ve been down here all day,” Capt. Tim Hemphill of the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. “From what I’ve observed, the breeze is running the opposite direction. It looks like (fire crews) have been able to get a good handle on it today.”

Karen Robinson of the Idaho Department of Lands agreed, saying the four additional crews and five additional engines ordered should help IDL gain ground on the fire that forced many in the area to evacuate.

“As of this morning, it’s 5 percent contained,” she reported. “It was at 700 acres Monday, and I don’t think it’s grown much more today.”

Residents around Blanchard evacuated Monday after the Hunter 2 Fire exploded from 100 acres to 500 acres. Livestock were also evacuated to both the Bonner County Fairgrounds and the Newport Rodeo Grounds. High winds stymied air approaches to fight the fire for most of Monday, though fire retardant resumed by Monday evening.

Fires to the south are stretching IDL resources, as well. The Sunnyside Complex Fire, a combination of the Clover Fire and the MM 49 Fire, has burned 2,000 acres as of 5:30 p.m.

Both Robinson and Hemphill noted the facts that Highway 41 was re-opening and that the evacuation orders for residents on the west side of the highway was lifted as of 6 p.m. Tuesday evening indicate crews are making headway.

A meeting at the Blanchard Community Center is scheduled for 6 p.m. today, where locals can receive an in-person update, have questions answered and meet with members of the fire teams.