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Elk Complex, Pony Complex fires slowed by favorable winds

Firefighters start a back burn along Pine-Featherville Road while battling the more than 140-square-mile Elk Complex fire near Pine on Monday. (Associated Press)
Firefighters start a back burn along Pine-Featherville Road while battling the more than 140-square-mile Elk Complex fire near Pine on Monday. (Associated Press)

BOISE – Fire crews in central Idaho capitalized on favorable winds Tuesday to continue burnout operations around a small mountain community, seeking to push a wildfire toward an area torched by a massive blaze last year.

Ludie Bond, a spokeswoman on the lightning-caused Elk Complex wildfire burning on more than 140 square miles near Pine, said burnout efforts that began Monday evening worked just as planned: consuming dry, flammable vegetation as the wildfire stayed higher on the ridgeline above town.

Crews prepared all day Tuesday for another burnout, slated to begin around sunset when temperatures drop, humidity rises and winds calm.

“Everything seems to be going smoothly,” Bond said, describing how winds from the southeast were pushing active flames toward areas charred last year in the big Trinity Ridge fire, where there was less fuel to be consumed.

No buildings burned, though fire officials were still tallying structure losses in Fall Creek, a little community several miles to the south of Pine on the Anderson Ranch Reservoir where the flames rolled through on Saturday.

Similar burnout operations were being done to the southwest on the nearby Pony Complex that has torched 225 square miles of sagebrush, grass and pine forest.

Four new lightning-caused wildfires also started in Idaho on the Bureau of Land Management’s territory in Owyhee County, about 30 miles south of Boise. They were burning in rough terrain, and no structures were threatened.

And the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in north-central Idaho reported several new fires from recent lightning activity.

The Elk Complex remains among the nation’s top wildfire fighting priorities because Pine and the neighboring mountain hamlet of Featherville, 8 miles from the flames, remain threatened.

Additional water-dropping helicopters and fire crews were arriving to tackle the blaze, which likely won’t be out for months until fall rains and snow arrive.

A mandatory evacuation of Pine and Featherville remained in effect, with roads leading to the communities closed with barricades and staffed by law enforcement. “There will still be a lot of fire activity,” Bond said.

Nationwide, 35 large active fires were burning Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. All are in the western United States, where much of the region is in the grips of a drought that has produced extreme fire behavior.

Even so, fewer than 3 million acres have burned this year in U.S. wildfires, the NIFC reported. That’s well down from the 5.9 million acres that had burned by this time last year and 6.3 million acres that had burned through mid-August in 2011.

In Utah, firefighters worked to contain several lightning-caused fires.

At least three homes have been burned in an affluent area near the ski resort of Park City. Evacuations have been ordered at the Lake Rockport Estates and on Sunrise Loop in the exclusive Promontory, a community of more than 350 multimillion-dollar homes built around a golf course.