Preacher Fire near Carey, Idaho, spreads to 650 acres from 50 in less than an hour as thunderstorms cause erratic winds; BLM steps up firefighting efforts, calls in help from rural fire protection districts

CAREY, Idaho , July 14, 2014 () – Thunderstorms near Carey whipped a wildfire from 50 to more than 650 acres in less than an hour Monday, requiring Bureau of Land Management firefighters to increase their attack efforts and call in help.

At 5:30 p.m., the Preacher Fire, 6 miles southwest of Carey, was 650 acres and still spreading, said Kelsey Dehoney, a BLM spokeswoman.

"It is windy and hot, and there are thunderstorms in the area that are causing erratic winds," Dehoney said.

The BLM responded with two bulldozers, seven fire engines, a water tender, four single-engine air tankers, a helicopter and an air attack. The agency also requested help from local rural fire protection districts to guard private land. No structures were threatened at press time.

The BLM's attack on the Preacher Fire was complicated by a spate of lightning-induced wildfires through the Garden Valley. Several air resources sought for the Preacher Fire initially were sent to deal with those 20 fires stretching along a 40-mile path, each 6 acres or less, Dehoney said.

While the BLM estimated a quick control on the blaze, fire officials had not updated their containment or control estimates since the fire spread rapidly, she said.

While the cause of the fire was undetermined, the BLM suspects lightning, she said.

Two fires also started in the Jim Sage Mountains of Cassia County, each burning trees, Dehoney said.

The BLM sent one engine to fight the 0.10-acre Frank Hallow fire and expected to control the blaze at 10 p.m. Monday. Information on the other burning tree was unavailable.

Much of south-central Idaho was under a red flag warning, issued by the National Weather Service in Pocatello, meaning fire behavior can be erratic, and fires can spread quickly.

The NWS also issued a severe thunderstorm warning Monday afternoon for east-central Cassia County, with heavy precipitation and gusty winds up to 60 mph expected.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Stage One fire restrictions Monday in parts of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area starting July 17.

The order bans smoking outside an enclosed vehicle or building and igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire outside a fire structure provided by the Forest Service.

Much of the closed area is west of Idaho 75, from Galena Summit at the south to Trap Creek at the north. The area includes many popular hiking and camping destinations, including Stanley Lake, Sawtooth Lake, Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake, Alturas Lake and the Hell Roaring area. It does not include the Boulder-White Cloud mountains to the east.

The closure is in an area filled with beetle-killed lodgepole pine that's seeing an increase in human-caused fires, wrote Julie Thomas, Forest Service spokeswoman.

"It is important for the public to understand the importance of making sure all fires are 'cold to the touch' and cigarettes are disposed of in a manner in which they too are out," she said.


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