Ski lodge dodges wildfire damage
August 27, 2007
BOISE, Idaho ” Firefighters using snowmaking machines doused a series of spot fires, some within 50 yards of a $12 million log ski lodge atop a mountain at Sun Valley.
Wind gusting to 45 mph fanned flames as smaller fires blackened ski runs on the backside of Bald Mountain and nearly reached the lodge above the posh resort town of Ketchum, fire and resort officials said.
Firefighters working with resort crews sprayed water from a dozen snowmaking guns after sunset Sunday night to put out the spot fires and soak the bone-dry ground around the 17,000-square foot lodge, averting millions of dollars in potential losses, said Jack Sibbach, the resort’s sales and marketing director.
“We’re all feeling a lot better today,” Sibbach told The Associated Press Monday. “We were all pretty anxious last night. The firefighters did a tremendous job last night. That building would be tough to replace.”
The threat to the lodge was the latest risk to people and property in Ketchum from the Castle Rock fire, which has forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes in and near Ketchum and scorched 54 square miles since it was ignited by lighting earlier this month.
Fire managers said better weather on Monday ” cooler temperatures, winds of no more than 20 mph and partly cloudy skies ” offered a chance to gain ground on the blaze, which was 31 percent contained.
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The improved conditions should give fire managers full use of 13 helicopters and planes that were brought in to dump retardant and water on the blaze, which has burned within 1 1/2 miles of neighborhoods south and west of the central Idaho town and about 2 1/2 miles from Highway 75, the main north-south route through the valley.
To improve efficiency, fire officials established a third base closer to Ketchum for aircraft to reload retardant, firefighting spokesman Jay Nichols said.
On the ground, more than 1,600 firefighters from across the West were on the fire lines, protecting summer cottages and pricey homes and managing spot fires.
No structures have been damaged by the latest fires and no injuries have been reported, but evacuations remain in effect, Nichols said. Public schools, scheduled to open for classes on Monday, were closed through Tuesday.
Despite the firefighting frenzy and smoky air, residents said life stayed as normal as possible. Downtown merchants and restaurants remain open, though Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter encouraged visitors to stay away last weekend. Sibbach said Sun Valley resort remains open and a convention planned there this week will go on as planned.
“Ketchum and my world is quite interesting right now,” said Kathy Boylston, 25, of Ketchum, who with her husband evacuated their home Saturday night.
“There is some anxiety out there,” said Boylston, one of hundreds of residents volunteering in any way they can. “We have some frustration in town because some people have been evacuated for a long time, but everybody understands the reasons.”