600 homes evacuated as Idaho wildfire burns

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sheriff’s deputies Friday ordered the evacuation of 600 homes near the Idaho mountain resort community of Sun Valley as a wind-driven wildfire torched its way through sage and pine trees.

The 85-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire was moving toward the Sun Valley Ski Resort, which turned on water cannons ordinarily reserved for wintertime snowmaking. One home in an outlying valley was destroyed Thursday night, said Bronwyn Nickel, a spokeswoman for Blaine County, where the fire is burning.

More than 600 state and federal firefighters were dispatched to the blaze in the affluent resort region that’s a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. In addition, some private insurers have sent in their own crews to provide structural protection for homes with values that can stretch into the millions of dollars, Nickel said.

“There are private engines that insurance companies have sent in,” she said. “They’re on site, they’re working with our local firefighters and law enforcement.”

Fire officials said strong, gusty winds, low humidity and tinder-dry vegetation created unstable conditions surrounding the Beaver Creek Fire, where a huge DC-10 tanker, capable of carrying 12,000 gallons of retardant, was among aircraft making drops on the blaze.

Jack Sibbach, a Sun Valley Resort spokesman, had to leave his home south of Ketchum on Friday. He said he watched as airplanes and helicopters made runs in roughly three-minute intervals, dropping water and red retardant to create a barrier against flames west of U.S. Highway 75.

The resort turned on snow cannons on Bald Mountain, he said, largely to protect lodges atop the mountain, should the fire advance that far.

“The fire’s not that close to Baldy, but with the wind, you’re worrying about things sparking,” Sibbach said. “Things could jump ahead.”

Flying in separate aircraft, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell took an aerial tour of the fire.

The towns of Ketchum, with a population of 2,700, and Sun Valley, with 1,400 people, were under pre-evacuation orders, with residents advised to prepare their belongings in case they are required to leave on a moment’s notice.

Fire managers “are just adding an extra layer of caution to the plan that they started last night,” said Rudy Evenson, a spokesman for the federal team overseeing the blaze. “We have a forecast for 30 mph winds at the ridge tops.”

Southbound traffic on U.S. Highway 75 was backed up, as many residents and vacationers opted to flee the smoke. Traffic was “bumper to bumper,” Hailey resident Jane McCann told The Associated Press by phone Friday.

“The smoke is unbearable,” said McCann, who was in her car. “Today in Hailey, you couldn’t see the mountains from Main Street.”

Elsewhere in the western United States, a wildfire near a Utah mountain ski resort town that’s burned seven houses was about half-contained, allowing some evacuations to be lifted following a day of calm winds that allowed crews to gain the upper hand.

However, about 110 homes located about 10 miles from the 2002 Olympic venue of Park City remained off-limits to their residents, as crews mopped up hot spots.

Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said Friday there were also downed, potentially live power lines to contend with — and 500- or 1,000-pound propane tanks outside the homes leaking because the valves burned. Even homes still standing may have suffered some damage, from the intense heat.

“We want to assess the safety of those structures before we release the evacuation,” Boyer said.

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Brady McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.

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