PINE, Idaho – Firefighting planes dropped retardant and ground crews trailed water hoses Monday to keep a fast-moving and unpredictable wildfire from scorching homes in a remote Idaho hamlet where residents have been evacuated ahead of a big blaze for a second straight year.
Thunder and lightning storms have sparked dozens of wildfires across the West in recent days, sending fire crews scrambling, threatening communities and impairing air quality in some areas.
Near the central Idaho community of Pine, the lightning-sparked Elk Complex fire had burned 141 square miles of sagebrush, grass and pine trees in rugged, mountainous terrain.
A few miles to the south, another big fire, the Pony Complex, had burned nearly 225 square miles of ground amid escalating winds and temperatures. Though it’s now about a third contained, downed power lines complicated efforts by firefighters to corral the flames.
Pine and neighboring Featherville, about 50 miles east of Boise, were under mandatory evacuation orders Monday.
Firefighters helped residents near Pine clear brush around their homes and filled large plastic “pumpkins,” or pools, with thousands of gallons of water to spray from sprinklers to protect property.
Last year, the Trinity Ridge fire burned several miles away, blackening nearly 228 miles and forcing hundreds to temporarily evacuate Featherville.
This year, fire officials say the Elk Complex has moved much faster, dipping in and out of ravines and torching ponderosa pine trees on ridge tops visible as bright orange smudges through the smoke cloaking the valley floor.
“Everything is behaving like it has no moisture at all,” Church said.
The fire has destroyed several homes, fire officials said, though exactly how many had not yet been determined Monday.
Jeff Day, a game warden with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he toured Fall Creek, a small settlement on the north side of a reservoir popular among boaters and anglers. There, he said, he’d seen several cabins burned to the ground, though the Fall Creek Resort was still intact.
Idaho’s fires have led to the closure of more than 1,200 square miles of Boise National Forest land.
In north-central Washington, a lightning-sparked wildfire grew to more than 9 square miles of dry grass and shrubs. Fire managers said the Milepost 10 fire was 70 percent contained, and evacuated residents of 78 homes were allowed to return home late Monday. The fire was burning about eight miles south of Wenatchee, overlooking the Columbia River.
Meanwhile, mudslides were posing problems just south of the fire, where thunderstorms have dropped heavy rain at the site of another recent blaze. Three homes may have been pushed off their foundations, Chelan County, Wash. emergency officials said.
Mudslides also closed state Highway 20 east of Rainy Pass on Washington’s scenic North Cascades Highway.