Crews gain footing on central Idaho wildfires

MONDAY, AUG. 30, 2010, 2 P.M.

BOISE — A wildfire burning on about 1,300 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in central Idaho was mostly contained today, but crews remained cautious with warmer temperatures expected later this week.

Firefighters had contained only about a third of the Hurd fire on Sunday, but officials reported today that 70 percent of the blaze had been squelched amid lower temperatures, intermittent rain and the occasional snow flurry.

Federal land agencies have spent more than $5 million on efforts to put out the wildfire that has charred two square miles, threatened houses and forced hundreds to evacuate in the Tamarack Resort area.

“There was a lot of homes and the ski resort right in its path,” said Madonna Lengerich, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. “We had to beef it up.”

Crews deployed a constant flow of helicopters to dump water and douse the area with retardant to protect homes and other structures from damage. At least 725 firefighters were working Friday to contain the wind-fanned flames of the wildfire, which had more than doubled in size overnight.

“We were trying to slow it down so we could get people on it,” Lengerich said.

A dramatic drop in temperature allowed crews to gain ground over the weekend and more than 650 firefighters remained today to secure the fire perimeter, check for hot spots and mop-up.

Officials expect the wildfire to be fully contained by Sunday, after the weather heats back up late this week, Lengerich said. “Basically, what we need to do is test it with some warm weather,” she said.

The colder weather over the weekend helped crews at lower elevations in southern Idaho.

The Long Butte fire has burned more than 306,000 acres — roughly 480 square miles — just west of Hagerman and was 95 percent contained. In southwestern Idaho, fire managers say the Hot Tea fire that started Friday 10 miles northeast of Mountain Home was 80 percent contained Monday and has burned about 5,000 acres, or nearly eight square miles.

Nationwide, wildfires were burning on more than 400,000 acres, or 625 square miles, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise reported Monday. The six wildfires in Idaho alone charred more than 320,000 acres, or 500 square miles.

The warmer weather expected later this week will be coupled with strong winds as storm systems move in across the West, said Robyn Heffernan, assistant fire weather program manager at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

While these warmer, drier conditions may provide an opening for a small increase in fire activity, she said, the storms will be followed by cooler temperatures.

“Overall, we’re starting to see a downturn in fire potential,” Heffernan said.

Tags: wildfires

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