Wildfire threatens homes, cabins near Idaho’s Alturas Lake

BOISE, Idaho — Roughly 200 people were told to evacuate and sheriff’s deputies were trying to track down campers and other recreationists after a wildfire exploded in Idaho’s scenic Sawtooth National Forest over the long holiday weekend.

Lightning sparked the Ross Fork Fire in central Idaho on Aug. 14, but Sunday’s hot, dry weather and winds pushed the flames along slopes at the base of the Sawtooth Mountain Range near Alturas Lake, a popular spot for campers, boaters and hikers.

The roughly 37-square-mile (96-square-kilometer) fire also threatened homes in Smiley Creek, an old mining town with few year-round residents but many part-time homeowners and summer visitors.

Conditions continued to worsen on Monday, said Sawtooth National Forest spokesperson Elizabeth Wharton, with the fire growing by about 15 square miles (39 square kilometers). It was particularly bad timing, as many recreationists poured into central Idaho for the long Labor Day weekend.

On Tuesday morning, crews were focusing on protecting buildings in the area and trying to keep the flames from crossing Highway 75, the main road running between the resort towns of Ketchum and Stanley, which was closed as a result of the blaze, Wharton said. But by that afternoon, the fire had jumped the highway, ending hopes that the expanse of pavement would help create a containment line.

At least two buildings near Smiley Creek burned, but it wasn’t immediately known if they were homes, cabins or outbuildings. The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office was warning people not to go into the area to check on their property.

“The fire activity continues to be extreme with hot and dry winds,” Wharton said. “It’s threatening the community of Smiley Creek and the Salmon River headwaters.”

About 175 firefighters were battling the blaze, but fire managers were in the process of bringing in a bigger team, Wharton said.

“Thankfully we are getting more resources because the fire has grown,” she said.

The Ross Creek fire was just one of more than a dozen wildfires burning across Idaho, prompting officials to warn boaters and swimmers to watch out for firefighting aircraft as helicopters and small planes scoop up water to dump on the flames.

Roughly 800 fire crew members were fighting another wildfire burning roughly 150 miles (240 kilometers) to the northwest near the small town of Cascade. The Four Corners Fire started during a lightning storm in mid-August, forcing evacuations of some neighborhoods later that month. Those areas remained under evacuation orders on Tuesday, according to the Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire was about 22 square miles (57 square kilometers) and roughly one-third of it was contained on Tuesday morning. Operation Section Chief Pila Malolo said crews were making “really good progress” on containing the fire.

Still, Boise National Forest officials warned that with several wildfires burning across the state, any new fire starts could mean that crews would be pulled off existing fires and moved to the new ones.

In northern Idaho, some Boundary County residents were asked to load their vehicles in case evacuations are needed because of a group of wildfires burning in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Shifting winds and dry weather could increase the intensity of the fires over the next few days, fire officials said.

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