Unsafe flying conditions ground helicopters battling the 127,500-acre Moose Fire - East Idaho News

Unsafe flying conditions ground helicopters battling the 127,500-acre Moose Fire

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Smoke and haze in the air Monday grounded flight operations for helicopters fighting the Moose Fire. | Photo and video courtesy Salmon-Challis National Forest

SALMON – America’s largest active wildfire is still burning 17 miles north of Salmon as firefighters work towards full containment.

The Moose Fire is 127,500 acres, as of Wednesday morning, and is 37% contained. The protection of homes and buildings in the area remains the priority.

“Engine crews continue to provide day and night structure protection for properties west of the town of Salmon and the historic Leesburg area,” according to a news release from Salmon-Challis National Forest.

An evacuation order remains in place for the Beartrack Mine and Leesburg area. The latest on evacuations is available on the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office website. Details about other closures and restrictions is available here.

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Helicopters fighting the blaze were grounded Monday due to unsafe flying conditions, fire officials say. Smoke and haze in the air resulted in limited visibility.

“Despite critically dry fuel conditions, firefighters on the line yesterday observed mostly low-intensity ground fire with occasional tree torching,” the news release says.

With cooler temperatures and rain showers in the forecast Tuesday, fire officials are expecting the smoke to clear and are anticipating little growth over the next several days. But windy conditions in conjunction with thunderstorms are concerning and always pose a challenge to fire personnel.

“Crews are … setting up extensive sprinkler systems with hose-lays, portable tanks, and pumps along the Ridge Road south of the Diamond Line. Hand crews are using chainsaws to clear brush and remove fuel from either side of the Williams Creek Road, preparing it for use as an indirect containment line if needed,” fire officials say.

The blaze is being fueled by brush and trees in the area. Though two helicopter pilots were killed in July while assisting with firefighting efforts, no other injuries have been reported.

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Officials have determined the fire is human-caused. How it started and who’s responsible is under investigation. The fire started on July 17, about five miles southwest of North Fork. Full containment is estimated for Oct. 31.

There are 918 firefighters on the scene Wednesday, including 21 hand crews and 47 engines. There are also seven helicopters working the Moose Fire.

The Owl and Horse Fires are burning in close proximity to the Moose Fire. The Owl Fire, 20 miles west of North Fork, is 739 acres. The 90-acre Horse Fire is about five and a half miles northwest of Corn Creek in the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness area. The cause of both fires has not been determined.