Six homes lost in Hospital Fire in Orofino

A helicopter with a bucket of water flies above a tree covered hillside with smoke billowing in the distance.
A helicopter pulled water from the Clearwater River while fighting the flames from the Hospital Fire in Orofino, Idaho August 29, 2023. (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)



Six homes and several outbuildings have been destroyed in the Hospital Fire in the small town of Orofino, Idaho.

As the fire raged through the Wixson Heights area, neighbors gathered on the streets downtown to watch the flames.

“We saw it right as it was happening, actually. The smoke was coming up behind the state hospital and within four minutes, it had already gone all the way up to Wixson Heights and burned down the first big giant house up there,” said Mike Trout, who watched from his pickup.

Mary Shores watched as black smoke plumes billowed from the hillside.

“Somebody’s house burning right there,” said Shores, who closed her business down early for the day. “I have the title company down here. So, I’m a little concerned about the town itself.”

A few streets down, Idaho Fish and Game officer Aaron Wright was helping people prepare for the worst.

“All we did was alert people on the street to be on standby and we’re just waiting to get the go ahead to evacuate people if we need to,” said Wright.

Chris, who only wanted to use her first name, lives in what was a potential evacuation zone.

A white dog eats dogfood on a grey driveway. 
Toby the dog has dinner on his family’s driveway in Orofino as they wait to hear if they need to evacuate to escape the fire. (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)

“And it’s moving that way. And we are on standby to evacuate because we live on this hill, and it’s just above us,” she said.

Chris and her husband packed up medicine and dog food in case they and their dog Toby needed to hit the road. They sat their driveway as a helicopter fought the fire from the air.

“We’re hoping we don’t actually have to leave,” said Chris. “But we’re ready as we can be, and we’re together and we’re a little family. So, that’s all that counts.”

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the old junior high school.

Don Gardner is the Emergency Management Coordinator for Clearwater County.

“Around 3:10 in the afternoon [on August 29, 2023] with high winds, a fire started behind State Hospital North in the grasses, and moved very quickly to the Wixson Heights area,” said Gardner. “Six homes were destroyed, one was heavily damaged, along with a lot of outbuildings.”

Powerlines were damaged. People living in Orofino, Ahsahka, and Greer were without power for hours. Rain fell amid thunderstorms for much of the night.

The Red Cross will be helping the families who lost their homes, said Gardner.

“We’re working to get with them and make sure they get what they need,” he said.

Not everyone who had to evacuate stayed in the shelter overnight. Krystal Beck lives in Wixson Heights. She slept in her car in the Orofino City Park with her dog.

A road with evergreen trees is charred and black along the hillside.
Areas of the Dent Bridge Road hillside smoldered for hours after the flames were put out. (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)

The next morning, she started the drive back up to her home past the charred Dent Bridge Road hillside, still smoldering from the fire.

“It’s gonna be sick to see the neighbor’s houses,” said Beck. “I seen two go.”

As Beck drove toward her home, firefighters stood near an Idaho Department of Lands truck for a meeting.

Firefighters in full gear and yellow helmets stand in a circle near two white trucks against two large evergreen trees. Firefighters in full gear have a meeting before setting out to put out the last of the Hospital Fire near Wixson Heights, Orofino. (Credit: Lauren Paterson / NWPB)

Scott Phillips is the policy communications chief for IDL. Crews will be going in with heavy equipment to create a fire line and “mop up” the rest of the area, he said.

“‘Mopping up’ means that the fire crews will start at the outside of the fire on the perimeter, work their way inwards looking for hotspots and they’ll continue to extinguish those hotspots,” said Phillips.

The damaged area is estimated to be around 50 acres. The firefighters successfully stopped the fire with help from the rain.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.