Firefighters, air drops slow massive wildfire in Idaho

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 3, 2015 at 1:11 p.m.

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — More than 1,000 firefighters and an unusually large number of aerial drops have slowed a massive west-central Idaho wildfire, fire managers said Thursday, though some residents in the region were still being told to evacuate.

Fire spokeswoman Patricia Bean also said expected rain in the next several days could help the fight against the 145-square-mile blaze 3 miles east of Riggins that's burning in timber. It was 25 percent contained.

"Fire managers are feeling very optimistic about the firefighting efforts in the next few days," she said.

Evacuations notices of various levels issued by the Idaho County Sheriff's Office have been in effect for about a week in the area and have fluctuated depending on fire activity. Some residents have been told to evacuate, while others have been advised to be prepared to leave quickly.

Ground crews with heavy aerial support limited the size of spot fires southeast of Riggins on Wednesday. The aircraft included nine helicopters, two super scoopers that have been collecting water from Payette Lake near McCall, and retardant bombers flying from Boise.

The fire became one of the top priorities in the region after it jumped the Salmon River and grew by 47 square miles over the weekend. Officials have also been protecting U.S. Highway 95, a main north-south corridor in the state.

Bean said no structures have been lost, and firefighters were protecting buildings in some areas and creating fire lines in others.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reopened the Lower Salmon River to rafters. But two takeout areas were closed, meaning a longer float is necessary to use a takeout near Riggins.

In northern Idaho, a 16-square-mile fire continued to threaten the historic Fenn Ranger Station, and residents in the area have been told to evacuate. The station, built in 1936, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fire spokeswoman Matti Sand said burnouts around the station and a fire line on a ridge led confident officials to move hoses and pumps from the station to a wooden bridge over the Selway River.

Overnight temperatures in the 40s along with rainfall have been welcomed by firefighters, who used the conditions to more directly attack the fire.

"It's good to have the firefighters switch more to an offensive rather than defensive role," Sand said.

Idaho has 16 large fires, the most in the nation, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Also, the Boise-based center kept the National Preparedness Level at its highest level for a 22nd consecutive day. That's well past the seven days at the top level in 2013 but short of some recent years where the center kept the level at maximum for more than a month.

The designation means there are so many large fires in Idaho and other states that resources are stretched thin and some needs might not be met.

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Keith Ridler


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