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Crews make gains on St. Maries fire

Fire crews near St. Maries, Idaho, contained about 50 percent of the 550-acre Echo Springs fire Sunday and expect to have the wildfire fully contained today if winds remain normal.

The blaze in wooded and hilly terrain started Friday about four miles west of St. Maries. By late Saturday at least six families chose to evacuate. About 35 families were told to consider voluntary evacuation as the blaze grew through Saturday afternoon.

Benewah County Sheriff Robert Kirts said Sunday that all but one of those who had evacuated returned to their property. That one resident planned to spend Sunday night in a motel.

One abandoned house was destroyed by the fire, said Mary Fritz, a spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Lands. It was in the vicinity of Shay Hill Road at the fire’s northeast boundary.

Fanned by winds on Saturday, the Echo Springs fire spread east and north, forcing about 100 firefighters to build fire lines and call in water drops. Two helicopters and one tanker plane were called to keep the fire from spreading, said Fritz.

“It was a great feeling keeping the fire to just the 550 acres it got to,” she said.

“We put a lot of air power on that fire. We had planes and copters scooping up water from the lake most of Sunday,” she said.

On Sunday, a plan to start a burnout – a controlled burn of dry timber within the fire zone – was delayed, said Fritz. She couldn’t say why crews decided against starting the burnout.

Overnight crews also worked on hot spots and traveled the fire’s perimeter to ensure flames remained inside the lines, she said.

Fire conditions remained extremely high across the region.

Officials said more than 20 fires in Idaho and Montana are being monitored. At the moment, there are more fires burning more acres in those two states than anywhere else in the nation, according to the National Incident Command Center. Among the regional fires:

• In Clearwater National Forest near the Idaho-Montana border, the Bridge fire continued burning about 14 miles southeast of the Powell Ranger Station. By midafternoon Sunday it had consumed about 15,000 acres and was nowhere near containment.

• The Chimney Complex fire about 20 miles south of Lewiston was 90 percent contained. By Sunday afternoon it had consumed 51,000 acres.

• The Poe Cabin Fire, five miles southwest of White Bird, Idaho, had burned about 55,000 acres and was 80 percent contained, according to fire crews.

• The Rattlesnake Fire on the Nez Perce National Forest burned about 40,000 acres from the north bank of the Salmon River to about three miles southeast of Dixie, Idaho.

State officials across the West continued restricting access to sections of national forests and warned travelers or campers to call ahead before driving or hiking into areas at risk of fire.

Nationwide, wildfires have burned more than 5.3 million acres, down slightly from 2006 but well ahead of the 10-year average, according to the National Incident Command Center. Of current fires, 38 have burned 500 acres or more.


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