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Crews keep flames from Idaho ski area

John Miller
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

KETCHUM, Idaho ” After a night of using torches to create a fire break nearly 1,000 feet wide, crews working on the 70-square-mile Castle Rock fire Wednesday again kept flames from the Sun Valley ski area and the million-dollar homes that line the deep gulch below.

“It took all night, from sundown to sunset,” said David Olson, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, of the burnout work. “This is a very key holding point.”

It’s now the 13th day since the region’s top-priority blaze, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, was started Aug. 17 by lightning on U.S. Forest Service land just west of this tony central Idaho resort community.



Fire managers said thunderstorms expected to hit the area later this week could increase fire activity, so crews were trying to build similar fire lines around the wildfire. Mike King, another fire spokesman, said good progress was being made.

About 2,000 homes in the Warm Springs area remain evacuated, including 1,400 covered by a mandatory order that came at 3 p.m. Tuesday and gave people in the neighborhood three hours to clear out.



Still, fewer than 10 people turned up for meals or showers at the Red Cross of Greater Idaho shelter in Hailey, 12 miles to the south on State Highway 75, officials there said.

According to volunteer leaders stationed at the Ketchum City Hall, many houses in the area cleared with help from the Idaho Army National Guard and local law enforcement were unoccupied second homes.

Most permanent residents found refuge with friends, family or in up to 120 homes, apartments or condominiums that have been offered up by local real-estate agents, officials said.



“Consistently, there have been people who have been coming forward and saying, ‘I have this place open,’ ” said Marisa Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Sawtooth Board of Realtors in Ketchum.

In Ketchum, the ash is falling so thick that early-morning joggers on the local bike path who still brave the poor air quality leave their footprints behind. Health officials have warned against physical exertion until the air clears.

Still, there’s a kind of “summer-camp” atmosphere that dominates Ketchum City Hall, where hundreds of volunteers congregate to answer questions, swap speculation about the flames ” and joke that any trout caught from the Big Wood River that bisects town will come “pre-smoked.”

“The evacuations haven’t met with any resistance,” said state Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum. “People’s reactions have been, if we ask them to evacuate, there’s a reason for it.’ “

About 1,640 firefighters were battling the blaze, using 15 helicopters, 7 bulldozers and 102 engines. So far, no structures have been damaged by the fire, though the blaze has cost just over $13 million to fight, so far.

So far this year, Idaho’s most expensive fire has been the Cascade Complex, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, burning since mid-July. It has topped $38 million, and is still burning on about 360 square miles in the Boise National Forest 100 miles north of Idaho’s capital city.

The East Zone Complex fire, burning on the Payette National Forest outside McCall, Idaho, has cost $23 million since being ignited by lightning more than a month ago.

In all, eight large fires are still burning across Idaho, on an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. Many of the fires won’t be doused until snow flies in October.


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