Wildfire forces more evacuations in northern Idaho

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 21, 2015 at 3:11 p.m.

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Evacuations have been ordered in northern Idaho as a group of wildfires that has already destroyed 42 homes threatened more residences Friday despite nearly 800 firefighters trying to beat back flames.

Fire managers told residents near the town of Weippe late Thursday to flee the fires that have scorched 63 square miles of mostly timber and are 40 percent contained. A local high school is being used to shelter evacuees.

That's one of 17 large fires burning in Idaho on Friday, the most in the nation, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said.

It's not clear how many residents are under mandatory evacuation orders near Weippe. Residents of a much larger area have also been told to "be ready to run at the drop of a hat," fire spokesman David Early said.

Four helicopters and nearly 50 fire engines are assigned to the fire, but Early said bombers that can drop fire retardant hadn't attacked the fire Friday because resources are stretched thin across the region with multiple fires.

In west-central Idaho, fire managers said expected winds on Friday aligning with topography could cause a 13-square-mile wildfire to grow significantly despite fire lines built by about 500 firefighters. U.S. Highway 95 has remained open, but it could close depending on fire activity.

A hazard confronting firefighters are the steep slopes where car-sized boulders sometimes roll off after becoming dislodged by fire, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas said.

"That's something that we're having to mitigate for," Thomas said. Firefighters "said that all night long, that stuff has been rolling off the hill."

Some residents have been told to evacuate, but not all of them have complied, Thomas said. Additional residents have been told to be ready to get out quickly, especially with strong winds expected.

"There's just a whole lot of fuel out there," she said.

No structures have been lost, and there have been no serious injuries to firefighters working the fire, Thomas said.

In the Boise National Forest about 20 miles northeast of Cascade in the central part of the state, about 330 firefighters have a 1-square-mile fire burning in timber nearly 50 percent contained.

Three helicopters, including one capable of dropping 1,000 gallons of water, are working on the blaze that has drawn a big response because of the many homes and cabins at the nearby Warm Lake Recreation Area.

Controlled burns have eliminated a lot of fuel near homes, but strong winds are expected, fire spokesman Jerry Rohnert said. "That's really going to test the fire lines," he said.

In the southwest part of the state, restoration work has started on a giant rangeland fire that scorched nearly 450 square miles, killing an unknown number of cattle and at least 27 wild horses.

The fire also destroyed primary habitat for sage grouse, a bird being considered for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Keith Ridler


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