Idaho firefighters make progress but brace for windy weather

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 20, 2015 at 12:21 p.m.



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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Firefighters in northern Idaho used a backfire and built fire lines hoping to protect dozens of homes on Thursday from a group of blazes that has destroyed 42 homes so far and nearly 80 outbuildings near Kamiah.

Fire spokeswoman Dixie Dies said firefighters are also stationed to protect homes that are spread out on hillsides and ridges.

"There are homes everywhere," she said. "We are making good progress but there's still fire within the perimeter."

A backfire set overnight successfully burned up a ridge, she said, removing fuel from the approaching fire and protecting homes. Additionally, some 20 bulldozers put in lines in anticipation of high winds and temperatures around 90 degrees expected Thursday afternoon and Friday.

Nearly 700 firefighters have been getting help from four helicopters, and retardant bombers have also been working the fire. But containment is only 30 percent on the fires that have scorched 61 square miles.

In west-central Idaho, residents in 250 homes have been told to evacuate or be ready to evacuate due to a 10-square mile fire burning about 20 miles northwest of McCall. Officials didn't have the number of residents evacuated.

Federal officials also closed a portion of the Payette National Forest to visitors. U.S. Highway 95 remains open, but officials said closing the highway is a possibility.

"We're putting all our efforts into the 95 corridor where the highway and structures are," said fire spokeswoman Julie Thomas.

Fire lines were bolstered overnight but fire officials say they're concerned due to heavy fuel loads in the area and expected strong winds Thursday afternoon and Friday that could result in extreme fire behavior.

Thomas said three helicopters have been working on the fire and retardant bombers have been making drops. But she said an inversion trapping smoke from the fire and other fires in Washington state has at times prevented air operations.

In the Boise National Forest in the central part of the state, about 330 firefighters are working on a 1-square-mile blaze about 20 miles northeast of Cascade. Warm Lake Highway was open but officials said it could close at any time depending on fire activity.

In the southwest part of the state, a giant rangeland fire that consumed nearly 450 square miles of grasses needed to feed cattle and primary sage grouse habitat is 95 percent contained.

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Keith Ridler

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