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Storms bring mixed news for firefighters, dampening some blazes, but sparking new ones too

Last night’s drenching rain in Boise apparently bypassed the Sun Valley area, but the Beaver Creek fire was rained on early today, the AP reports, keeping fire activity minimal; crews there are reporting good progress. Click below for a western wildfire update from AP reporter John Miller. As of 10 last night, the fire was 67 percent contained; there are still 1,500 firefighters battling it.

Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has an interesting report today about how many Sun Valley area residents ignored guidance on how to make their homes and property fire-wise after the 2007 Castle Rock fire, resulting in an extremely difficult fight for firefighters along the Greenhorn Road area north of Hailey, where Barker reports that “wooden houses, some as big as small hotels, with cedar-shake roofs and trees hanging over them,” line the road.  At the height of the firefight on Tuesday, Blaine County sent out this tweet: “Ketchum Fire Chief: ‘We had a lot of roof fires in Greenhorn. Shingles have got to go. They aren't worth it.'

Meanwhile, the Little Queens fire continues to threaten the tiny town of Atlanta, which remains under a mandatory evacuation order; the rain bypassed that blaze. As of this morning, 367 firefighters were battling the wildfire on 12,787 acres, and NIFC reported, “Additional resources that have been requested continue to arrive and be assigned to the fire.”

The Gold Pan Complex of fires in the Bitterroot National Forest 35 miles southwest of Conner, Mont. has forced area closures, including along the Magruder Road corridor, and spread to 34,028 acres; and the Lodgepole Fire 10 miles west of Challis, which has been burning since July 20, is up to 22,856 acres and structure protection efforts are being assessed for historic cabins in the Twin Peaks area, though overall the fire is 75 percent contained.

The storms that rolled over southern and central Idaho overnight brought mixed news for firefighters, with rain dampening some, but lightning touching off numerous new wildfires, including at least 13 in the Boise National Forest.


Beastly fire disrupts Idaho vacation heaven
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

SUN VALLEY, Idaho (AP) — For rockers Huey Lewis and the News, smoke from the massive Sun Valley, Idaho, wildfire known as “the Beast” had band members who famously worried about the heart of rock and roll worrying about their lungs.

They canceled their show, as did the novelists, poets and journalists who convene in this vacation region each summer for a writer's convention. Meanwhile, squadrons of private aircraft whisked the affluent off to locales with cleaner air.

With its mountain backdrop, Sun Valley is normally a playground for the rich, the famous, for super-fit pursuers of outdoor sports or the Big Wood River's feisty brook trout. To many, it's heaven. But “the Beast” has caused disruptions in the sun-basking, fun-loving lifestyle, and the economy.

“This is the worst I've seen it,” said Brad Wood, who helps run a shop that rents bikes at the posh Sun Valley Lodge. Wood said he's sent four employees home until business picks up: On Thursday, only five of the 350 bikes they rent were out.

The blaze is among about 50 large fires burning nationwide.

A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park more than tripled in size Thursday, prompting officers to urge residents of nearly 300 homes in a gated community to begin a non-mandatory evacuation and leading scores of tourists to leave the area during peak season.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as the fire grew to 99 square miles and was only 1 percent contained. Two homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed. The park remains open.

Meanwhile, five wildfires have been burned about 18 square miles of mostly remote areas of Yellowstone National Park on the 25th anniversary of the infamous 1988 fires that burned more than 1,200 square miles inside Yellowstone, or more than a third of the park.

This summer's fires haven't been anywhere near that disruptive. The biggest fire in Yellowstone, one that has burned about 12 square miles in the Hayden Valley area, for a time Tuesday closed the road that follows the Yellowstone River between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village. By Wednesday, the road had reopened. Later that day, half an inch of rain fell on the fire.

Idaho's Beaver Creek Fire is finally nearing containment, as firefighters take advantage of favorable weather to corral it up against an area burned by another large blaze in 2007. But it will continue to smoke for weeks.

More than just torching sage, high-desert grassland and trees, however, its impact has scorched the local economy.

Todd Van Bramer, who manages fly fishing guides at Silver Creek Outfitters in nearby Ketchum, said he's lost 70 percent of his normal business.

“We have a lot of customers who can go anywhere they want to,” he said. “They don't have to come to Idaho if it's burning, they can go to Montana, Colorado or Wyoming at the drop of a hat.”

The air is now much less smoky than it was during the height of the fire, but the smoke continues to cast a shadow over the economy.

At the airport in Hailey, just south of here, regional carrier Sky West has been forced to divert many morning flights to Twin Falls, about 100 miles away, because cooler morning temperatures mean smoke often loiters on the valley floor until afternoon breezes push it away.

And those planes are much emptier than an ordinary mid-August, said Rick Baird, manager at Friedman Memorial Airport.

The Sun Valley Lodge, built in 1936 by the Union Pacific Railroad as America's first destination resort, is bearing the brunt of disruption.

A writer's conference that was to have featured speakers including journalist Peter Bergen and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Liaquat Ahamed was canceled, emptying rooms by the dozen. Guests who cancel are getting refunds, said Jack Sibbach, a resort spokesman.

“It's quite an economic hit on us,” he said.

Businesses like The Elephant's Perch sports store in Ketchum have had plenty of time to devote to the local firefighters who have ordered heavy new boots. But it's not adding much to the bottom line.

“These guys are getting the boots at our cost,” said Sam Elmes, a sales clerk. “They did a great job protecting us.”

For the first time in 37 years, a charitable golf tournament started by the late baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was scratched. There are “hundreds of firefighters risking their lives in the woods. We're not going to be playing golf while they're doing that,” said Georgie Fenton, its director.

For some locals, however, ditching events didn't seem an option.

Ketchum resident Spooky Taft had been planning her daughter's wedding for a year; about 220 guests were coming. Many were in the air even as the flames approached town. The string quartet was evacuated. And with embers aloft, Taft decided the horse-drawn carriage was a no-go, too.

But the wedding went forward. “We pulled it off, against all odds,” Taft said.

___

AP writers Gosia Wozniacka in Fresno, Calif., Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this report.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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