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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Double burnout starts to stop fire from reaching Idaho town

An air tanker drops retardant Tuesday July 26, 2016, near homes in the Avimor development north of Eagle, Idaho. Firefighting crews both, on the ground and airborne, were creating a fire line preventing the Highway 55 Fire from getting any closer to the homes. (Darin Oswald / Darin Oswald Idaho Statesman)
Associated Press

LOWMAN, Idaho – Firefighters have started two simultaneous emergency burns trying to stop an 81-square-mile wildfire that on Friday moved to within a few miles of a small town in mountainous central Idaho.

The burnouts started late Thursday on the east and west sides of Rock Creek are intended to consume fuel in the drainage that funnels into Lowman, where firefighters have set up sprinkler systems to protect homes.

The burnouts are “progressing pretty well,” fire spokesman Patrick Lair said. “That’s really the big push for the next several days – to complete that.”

Nearly 1,500 firefighters are battling the blaze burning timber in rugged terrain. Numerous fire lines have had to be abandoned as flames moved north.

About 25 miles of State Highway 21 remains closed, from 6 miles north of Idaho City to south of Lowman. It’s a heavily traveled route between highly populated southwest Idaho and vacation areas in the center of the state.

County Highway 17, also called the Banks-Lowman Road, is an alternate route that remains open. Officials have said they’ll try to keep it open even if that requires using pilot vehicles to guide motorists.

Lair said crews are trying to prevent the fire from reaching a fuel-filled canyon called Hole in the Wall to the west of Lowman that, if ignited, could shut down the road.

“It very well could,” Lair said. “We’re doing are darned best to prevent it.”

No evacuations have been ordered, but Boise County Sheriff Jim Kaczmarek has told residents to be alert.

“It’s a fluid situation and we have contingency plans for whatever happens,” he said. “What we won’t be doing is having two roads closed at once.”

Kaczmarek suggested residents sign up through the county’s website to receive emergency notifications on their home or cellphones. He said many county residents already have.

The fire has destroyed a state-operated backcountry yurt. The $60,000 yurt is a round, tent-like structure with a dome roof and plastic skin. It’s not clear what day it was destroyed.

There are six yurts in the system that the state operates on the Boise National Forest under an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and that are booked months in advance for winter use by backcountry skiers.

At least two other yurts have survived. Lair said Friday crews have not been able to check on the condition of the three other yurts.

Meanwhile, officials with the nearby Sawtooth National Forest ordered fire restrictions to start Monday due to increasing wildfire danger.

The restrictions allow campfires or stove fires only at designated recreation sites. Smoking is also limited to inside vehicles, buildings or areas clear of flammable materials.