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Growing blaze nears Ketchum, Sun Valley

Sat., Aug. 17, 2013, midnight

More than 1,000 homes evacuated

BOISE – A wildfire threatening the resort cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum has become the nation’s top-priority wildfire, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced in Boise on Friday.

As of late afternoon, more than 1,000 homes had been evacuated in the Sun Valley-Ketchum area, and more than 3,500 residents had received pre-evacuation notices in an area that included all of both cities.

Tidwell and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter visited the fire lines Friday morning and spoke with reporters at the National Interagency Fire Center in the afternoon.

Asked if the fire could come into the storied resort towns of Sun Valley and Ketchum, Tidwell said, “At this time, there’s a chance, and that’s why they’ve done the pre-evacuation notices.”

Sun Valley ski resort officials turned on their snowmaking cannons to help wet down dry hillsides as the flames approached.

Otter said among those receiving pre-evacuation orders was state Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, who accompanied him on the tour of the fires.

“Please carry the message back,” Otter told reporters. “If you’re asked to leave, please get out.”

Added Tidwell, “We’re not going to ask anybody to leave unless there is a real threat.”

In addition to the pre-evacuation notices, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office advised residents in mandatory evacuation areas shortly before noon Friday to “GO NOW.” Heavy traffic was reported on Highway 75 through the Wood River Valley. Mandatory evacuations had spread into the city of Hailey by late afternoon.

The Beaver Creek fire is among several burning in central Idaho right now that have exhibited wildfire behavior that Tidwell said is the “new normal.”

Last year’s massive Trinity Ridge fire in the same region took six weeks to burn between 125,000 and 130,000 acres; Tidwell said the nearby Elk Complex fire burned close to 115,000 acres in six days.

“It’s just what we’re seeing everywhere,” he said. “Any more, this is becoming the normal type of fire behavior for this time of year.” He noted extremely dry conditions as a major contributor.

The Beaver Creek fire, ignited by lightning Aug. 7, was 9 percent contained as of Friday morning and had burned 55,000 acres. More than 600 firefighters are battling the blaze.

“The first take-home for me is what a great job these agencies are doing,” Tidwell said, speaking from the Boise center at which all agencies’ wildfire responses are coordinated.

Wind gusts of up to 30 mph were reported in the Sun Valley-Ketchum area Friday afternoon, worsening the conditions.

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