Thousands of people were forced to evacuate Silverwood Theme Park late Friday afternoon as a rapidly expanding wildfire approached.
The Brunner fire near Athol grew to 50 acres and destroyed several small outbuildings, said Chris Way, chief of Kootenai County Search and Rescue.
Within a couple hours of the evacuation of the park, Way said firefighters made good progress to begin getting the fire under control.
Structures were threatened Friday evening, said Mick Thomas, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Lands, which is leading the firefighting effort.
Level 3 evacuations, the most urgent order to leave, wereissued for the area of Clagstone Road to Ramsey Road, Brunner Road to Remington Road and Diagonal Road to Hunters Road. Everyone in the general area of Silverwood Theme Park was told to be ready to evacuate at any time, Way said.
The fire started on Brunner Road and jumped the road.
Way said the fire spread quickly, pushed by 10 mph winds, but the evening brought calmer winds that were expected to make it easier to handle.
Jordan Carter, spokesman for Silverwood, said the theme park evacuated about 8,000 people Friday afternoon, according to reports from KXLY.
Silverwood told employees to be prepared to come to work on Saturday.
Way said several larger structures may have been threatened. He could not say if that included houses.
He said two helicopters and at least six planes, including a Fire Boss, were dumping water on the flames.
The fire disrupted what was supposed to be a day of fun for hundreds of families at Silverwood and created a logjam in the parking lot while the fire was active, according to Jennifer Spicer, a visitor from Zillah, Washington.
Spicer was in line for funnel cake with her family when they heard an announcement around 5 p.m. to immediately evacuate the theme park.
She said they made it to their car, but waited 1½ hours before they were able to drive out of the lot because of the traffic jam.
Travis Hots, a vacationing fire chief from Snohomish County in Western Washington, said he saw multiple aircraft quickly attacking the black-smoke fire from the top of a rollercoaster with his family.
He said that he was impressed by the response from Idaho Department of Lands.
Hots said it was smart to evacuate the park and it went smoothly.
“There was a lot of wind backing the fire,” Hots said. “It could have been a bad situation that got a whole lot worse if they didn’t make that call.”
Hots said that there was a delay in getting out of the parking lot, but the parking lot was a relatively safe place to be, considering there was little vegetation around it.
Fire officials said about 150 emergency vehicles responded to the fire and asked the public to avoid the area.
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