Idaho fire pushes north near resorts
HAILEY, Idaho — Fire crews on Saturday faced another challenging day of battling a rapidly growing wildfire burning closer to two posh central Idaho resort communities, while other blazes in the West charred homes and devoured dry grass and brush.
In northern Utah, about 10 homes were destroyed when a wildfire raced through the community of Willow Springs late Friday, jumping a state highway and fire lines, authorities said. The Patch Springs fire had burned more than 50 square miles. It was 20 percent contained.
In Idaho, a wildfire pushed by strong gusts and fed by dry timber and brush made a push north and forced more evacuations near the Idaho resort town of Ketchum.
The Beaver Creek fire grew by 15 square miles, to 144 square miles. Overnight, flames moved closer to homes and subdivisions in the mountains west and north of the communities of Hailey and Ketchum and the Sun Valley Resort.
So far, authorities have issued mandatory evacuations for 2,300 residences in the valley, which is a vacation getaway for celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks.
The blaze was started by lightning Aug. 7. It expanded significantly Friday, burning through tinder-dry brush and timber in the mountains west of the towns. Efforts Saturday were focused on protecting homes and structures in the gulches and foothills just west of Hailey and Ketchum.
Crews also planned to target erratic, wind-driven fire growth in one area north of Ketchum and two locations west of Hailey.
Heavy smoke that grounded firefighting aircraft early Saturday cleared enough to allow helicopters and a huge DC-10 tanker to start making drops in the afternoon.
Fire managers and more than 700 firefighters braced for another dose of hot temperatures and afternoon wind gusts up to 30 mph that could move flames closer to homes. Hundreds more firefighters were expected to arrive Saturday.
“This fire is consuming everything,” fire spokeswoman Madonna Lengerich said. “The fire is so hot, it's just cremating even the biggest trees.”
Ketchum, with a population of 2,700, and Sun Valley, with 1,400 people, were under “pre-evacuation orders,” with authorities telling residents to be ready to leave if necessary.
The area's retail and dining districts normally are buzzing this time of year with tourists and summer residents. But the tight valley that bookends the communities was shrouded in thick smoke, keeping people indoors.
Some restaurants didn't open for Saturday breakfast and lunch. But as the haze lifted in the afternoon, activity picked up in Hailey and businesses started to reopen.
In Utah, fire managers eyed the weather as crews continued battling several blazes, including the Patch Springs fire in Tooele County.
The fire was tame until Friday, when shifting winds pushed it over state Highway 199. Flames raced through Willow Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and forced the sudden evacuation of homes there and in the community of Terra, as well as a campground.
The highway and campground remained closed.