Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Optimism fighting Idaho blaze

Fire's growth slows as 1,200 work to save playground of rich and famous

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BOISE, Idaho -- Fire managers expressed optimism Sunday in their battle against a wildfire that has scorched nearly 414 square kilometres and forced the evacuation of 2,300 homes near the central Idaho resort communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Officials said the blaze had grown only about 31 sq. km. because of cloud cover the day before and the arrival of additional crews and equipment. Many firefighters worked Sunday to create protective firebreaks, or gaps in vegetation aimed at stopping the fire's progress.

"Today they're very optimistic that we will reinforce those lines in case the fire does flare up as we saw on Thursday and Friday," fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman said.

More than 1,200 people and 19 aircraft are now battling the lightning-caused Beaver Creek Fire, which started Aug. 7 and is nine per cent contained. Nearly 90 fire engines also are in the region, many protecting homes in the affluent area where celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways.

Hartman said Sunday retardant was being dropped on the flank of Bald Mountain -- the Sun Valley Resort's primary ski hill -- to reinforce a fire line. That meant the famed ski mountain known as "Baldy" and often used in publicity photos would have a red line of retardant visible from Ketchum.

Hartman said the drop was part of a plan by fire managers to bolster protection for the tony resort town. But he noted the fire had not yet reached the mountain.

Fire managers said both of the nation's DC-10 retardant bombers have been used to battle the blaze, but one experienced an engine malfunction after a drop Thursday. The jet made it back safely to Pocatello in southeastern Idaho but remains unavailable.

Hartman said most of the fire's containment is on the south and west sides. The more populated areas are on its eastern side and are where the mandatory evacuations are in place.

Blaine County spokeswoman Bronwyn Nickel said Idaho National Guard soldiers are manning checkpoints at evacuated neighbourhoods and helping relieve local law enforcement officers. The Blaine County Sheriff's Office is warning evacuated residents not to return until notified it's safe to do so.

No structures have been destroyed since a house and outbuildings burned Thursday, officials said. On the fire line, a few minor injuries have been reported.

Authorities have told Ketchum and Sun Valley residents to be ready to evacuate if necessary. About 2,700 people live in Ketchum, 1,400 in Sun Valley.

Elsewhere in the West, the last evacuation orders were scheduled to be lifted Monday after a series of mountain fires burned more than a dozen homes in Utah.

More than 100 residents who were forced to leave Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches, about 73 km east of Salt Lake City, will be allowed to return in the morning.

Among them are family members of a couple who got married over the weekend in a backup ceremony at a century-old church after they had to flee their original venue with the bride's wedding dress.

Tawni Sprouce and Travis Mann planned to exchange their vows at her parents' home overlooking Rockport Reservoir. But the residence was among the scores evacuated after the lightning-sparked Rockport fire burned nearly 810 hectares.

First, the couple moved the wedding to a campsite at Rockport State Park near the community of Waneship. But rain then pushed the ceremony inside the park's Old Church.

Mann said that given the circumstances, the couple welcomed the moisture. He said Saturday's ceremony eventually went off without a hitch.

Fire officials said Sunday the Rockport fire was 70 per cent contained.

Utah's biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire, was estimated at 129 sq. km and 25 per cent contained Sunday.

Evacuation orders have been lifted for that fire, which burned 10 homes near Willow Springs on Friday. But a portion of State Highway 199 remained closed.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2013 A10

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