Horsethief fire threat wanes
A crew fuels an Erickson Air-Crane on Thursday afternoon at the helipad on the National Elk Refuge before it takes off to fight the Horsethief Canyon Fire. Eight helicopters are in service, two of them Sky-Cranes, the heaviest of the fleet. Visit www.jhnewsandguide.com for updates and a photo gallery documenting the wildfire. Photo by JACLYN BOROWSKI/JACKSON HOLE DAILYView our entire photo gallery >>
By Mike Koshmrl and Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
September 14, 2012
The Horsethief Canyon Fire evacuation advisory for east Jackson was lifted Thursday evening, four days after it was imposed.
Jackson/Teton County Fire/EMS Chief Willy Watsabaugh made the announcement to a crowd of about 90 people gathered for an evening briefing on the wildfire, estimated to have burned 3,324 acres. Watsabaugh issued the evacuation warning Monday morning, telling residents to be packed to leave should the fire advance within a mile of Jackson.
“We’re lifting that order, but people still need to remain vigilant,” Watsabaugh said Thursday. “Things can change.”
Five hundred eighty-seven firefighters and support personnel are battling the blaze, which started Saturday afternoon at a home near Wilson Canyon south of Jackson. Officials said the fire is human-caused and they are investigating.
Firefighters have established a line around 36 percent of the fire, officials said Thursday. Three bulldozers are part of the effort.
“Basically, all of that 36-percent containment is on the west side” between the fire and Jackson, Forest Service Incident Commander Chris Ourada said. “We’re starting to put some focus over in the Game Creek area” south of town.
The developments point to a potential resolution to an emergency that has gripped the community for six days.
“Hopefully, in three or four days we’ll be talking about full containment,” operations section manager Alan Mitchell said. “Keep your fingers crossed.”
Eight crews of up to 20 firefighters each are classified as “type 1” — Mitchell called them “Marines of the Forest Service.” Thirteen crews make up the ground muscle.
Four or five crews are working along the ridge above Cache Creek. Fire managers sought to keep the fire from spilling over that ridge into steep, heavy timber east of Jackson.
Despite the seemingly large contingent of firefighters in yellow fireproof shirts, Mitchell said the team was stretched.
Because so few people were available on the ground, “we’ve relied heavily on our air resources,” he said.
Eight helicopters have been assisting. When two heavy choppers were grounded Wednesday, Ourada called in a DC-10 jet with an 11,000-gallon slurry payload.
It made two runs, dropping retardant over the ridge south of Cache Creek. It returned and flew over Jackson toward Game Creek later in the day.
People living on the side of Snow King Mountain, the inhabited area closest to the fire, have had a web of fire hoses in their neighborhood all week. The hoses are connected to fire hydrants, ready to douse any flames.
“If they get a call, within a minute they’re ready to go,” resident E.J. Hirschfield said Wednesday of the firefighters who now regularly patrol her neighborhood. Her house is on Snow King Drive, only a 10-minute hike from the top of the ridge, she said.
Firefighters who showed up in the area Tuesday were upsetting to some residents.
“I saw four or five fire engines down there and I really got frightened,” Hirschfield said.
Then she recognized them as a comforting presence.
“Everyone stopped to visit and to introduce themselves,” she said.
For a gallery of fire photographs click here.