CATALDO – Due to the tremendous efforts of firefighting crews and some fortuitous weather behavior over the weekend, the CCC Wildfire has been officially 100 percent contained.
In earlier reports, the wildfire was believed to have burned approximately 528 acres of land, but this number has since been reduced to 450 acres due to more accurate mapping of the area by ground crews.
Idaho Department of Lands Fire Information Officer Jennifer Russell explained to the News-Press that much of the size measurements taken during the course of the wildfire were done by air units, as the area was too hazardous for ground units. While this method keeps firefighters out of harm’s way, observations from the air are only estimates and not as precise compared to groundwork done with GPS.
The CCC Wildfire started around noon on Aug. 7 on the north side of CCC Road, roughly 2 miles northeast of Cataldo. Cause of ignition is currently under investigation by IDL fire investigators.
Throughout the course of the first three days that the fire burned, fire crews comprised almost solely of local personnel were fighting an uphill battle (sometimes literally) due to a multitude of factors working against them.
“Basically you have something that starts the fire, your fuels, weather conditions, terrain and temperature. So when it started that afternoon...it had the fuels available for it to eat, it had the oxygen available for it to breathe, strong winds helped move it and the terrain was steep.”
Steep conditions not only made it hard for ground crews to maneuver safely, but they also aided the fire by giving it a natural direction to burn– up.
What initially began as a 2 acre fire Wednesday afternoon turned into 200 acre fire in less than 12 hours.
Local units were steadily reinforced by other nearby agencies and received almost round-the-clock air support from suppression helicopters and planes.
Suppression helicopters were equipped with essentially enormous water bags/buckets that they filled up with water from the nearby North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Planes involved in the operation dropped a combination of water and fire retardant in an effort to contain the blaze to certain areas.
While crews had succeeded in keeping the wildfire from moving south toward populated areas, flames continued to aggressively pushed north/northeast with the help of the wind.
By the time a Type 3 Incident Management team took command on Friday, the number of burned acreage had doubled to an estimated 426 acres.
Russell explains that the decision to call in a Type 3 team is not necessarily based on acreage, but more on the complexity of the situation and to back-up local units.
“Because local units have to keep doing their everyday initial attack responsibilities, when they have a really big incident like this, then they will bring in a team to just manage that fire so they can continue their day-to-day operations.”
At that time, total personnel fighting the fire was 200 people- which included two hotshot crews and four Type II IA crews.
Firefighters worked to construct indirect firelines on the west and north sides of the fire. The goal was to tie in this constructed fireline with the CCC Road and the Cataldo mountain ridgeline to the #259 road.
Thankfully for all those involved though, mother nature would hand suppression teams their first big advantage of the fight by providing consistent precipitation and low temperatures over the weekend.
Ground crews seized the opportunity and attacked the fire directly with both hand lines and heavy equipment lines.
While the rain did create slick conditions and loose materials that would roll or slide in steep areas, progress was being made.
IDL reported Saturday morning that 15 percent containment had been achieved after three straight days. By Sunday morning, containment doubled to 30 percent as crews worked to secure the western flank of the fire while laying hose and water handling equipment in all areas.
The tide had finally started to turn.
Personnel involved had jumped to 272, which included 2 hotshot crews and eight Type 2 IA crews. Equipment being utilized included nine engines, one dozer and four water tenders.
By Monday, containment had reached 50 percent and fire activity was minimal with sporadic creeping and smoldering in areas.
Fire crews began mop-up operations which, among other things, involved using a tactic called “cold trailing” in a grid pattern across the terrain. Cold trailing requires firefighters to look for visible smoke and to put an ungloved hand into the soils to detect any residual heat.
By Thursday morning, the CCC Wildfire was officially contained.
While containment is a tremendous achievement, it is just the first designation of three when describing the condition of a wildfire. The next step is to get it under the “controlled” designation, which means that any hot spots or unburned fuels have to be taken care of. If nothing crops up for an appropriate length of time, a fire is finally classified as “out.”
The Type 3 team that has been in-charge of the operation since Aug. 10 plans to transition command back to local officials with IDL-Cataldo on Aug. 17.
With things finally under control, Russell says that fire crews are pleased with their results.
“We’re just really happy with how this turned out. We had a plan, we stuck to the plan and we saw it through.”
No structures were damaged or people injured as a result of the incident.
Fire managers and personnel would also like to thank the public for the outpouring of well wishes and continuous support throughout the suppression efforts. Additionally, Idaho Department of Lands thanks cooperators from the USDA Forest Service, Shoshone and Kootenai County Sheriff’s Offices, Shoshone County Fire Protection and local contractors for their hard work throughout the suppression efforts.
Air quality in the Silver Valley and surrounding area has improved, but residents should be aware of changing conditions.
To see the live air-quality map, visit http://airquality.deq.idaho
For the latest status of road/trail closures caused by the wildfire, visit the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.