August 27, 2010 in City

Fires spark evacuations as winds fan flames across Idaho

Todd Dvorak Associated Press
Drew Nash photo

Idaho Power works on lines that run next to parts of the Oregon Trail at the Hagerman Fossil Beds, in Hagerman, Idaho. A wildfire that scorched the area has left the park more susceptible to mudslides and erosion, possibly endangering its trove of buried fossils, according to National Park Service officials.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Authorities in central Idaho asked residents living near and at Tamarack Resort to clear out of their homes and condominiums Thursday as firefighters battled the wind-fanned flames of the Hurd Fire now burning about a mile away.

An immediate evacuation was ordered Thursday morning for subdivisions near the golf and ski resort. But hours later, as winds reached speeds of 30 mph, deputies began making the rounds to the pricier properties tucked between ski runs and pockets of forest.

Resort workers also turned on snowmaking equipment to soak unburned sections of the mountain, and air tankers dumped retardant on the mountain west of Donnelly.

So far, fire officials say there are no reports of property damage. But that could change late Thursday when winds that have been blowing from the south all day are predicted to shift east, said Madonna Lengerich, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

“It’ll probably be a late night for all of our crews,” said Lengerich. “Right now the fire is about a mile from the resort. But that doesn’t mean much if we start getting the heavy and shifting winds.”

The blaze began Saturday in a lightning strike but – fueled by wind gusts, dry conditions and heat – grew Wednesday night to 550 acres. More than 700 firefighters and support staff are on the scene and worked to contain at least 20 percent of it.

The blaze is one of several significant fires being fought across the state in a late-season surge in wildfire activity.

The Long Butte Fire burning in the southern Idaho desert is 50 percent contained. After revising earlier estimates, fire officials said the Long Butte blaze has now scorched more than 478 square miles of flat landscape populated by sagebrush and cheatgrass.

Some of the 306,000 acres that have burned since Saturday include the home range of a wild horse herd and about 75 percent of the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Officials said they managed to remove valuable fossil collections but are worried about the long-term impacts of the fire on fossil beds and active dig sites from erosion and mud slides.

Near the central Idaho town of Stanley, more than 560 firefighters are battling the Banner Fire, which grew by 350 acres Wednesday and has now scorched more than 2,000 acres.

A lightning storm that moved through the Boise area Thursday afternoon ignited several more wildfires, including two in the southern regions of the Boise National Forest, said Dave Olson, spokesman for the forest.

Firefighters are responding to a wildfire at the Wilderness Ranch subdivision 25 miles northeast of Boise. Olson said about 30 structures and homes are threatened.

Crews have also been called to a fire near the small mountain town of Crouch.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning indicating extreme burning conditions and forecasts of a strong cold front bringing high winds and thunderstorms.

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