Crews successfully conduct burnout at Idaho town

JOHN MILLER, Associated Press
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An air tanker drops fire retardant on the hillside overlooking Pine, Idaho while battling the more than 80,000 acres Elk Complex FIre on Sunday Aug.11, 2013. (AP Photo/Times-News,Ashley Smith)

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the hillside overlooking Pine, Idaho while battling the more than 80,000 acres Elk Complex FIre on Sunday Aug.11, 2013. (AP Photo/Times-News,Ashley Smith)

PINE, Idaho (AP) — Fire crews in central Idaho took advantage of favorable winds to conduct burnout operations around a small mountain community, seeking to push a wildfire toward an area that was torched by a massive blaze last year.

Ludie Bond, a spokeswoman on the Elk Complex burning on more than 140 square miles near Pine, said Tuesday the burnout worked just as planned: Consuming dry, flammable vegetation as the wildfire stayed higher on the ridgeline above town.

Similar burnout operations were being done to the southwest on the nearby Pony Complex that has burned 225 square miles of sagebrush, grass and pine forest.

The Elk Complex remains the nation’s No. 1 wildfire fighting priority, since Pine and the neighboring mountain hamlet of Featherville, 8 miles from the flames, remain threatened.

Additional water-dropping helicopters and fire crews are arriving.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Thunderstorms threatened more trouble Tuesday for crews battling a fast-moving wildfire near a remote Idaho hamlet, where some wildfire-weary residents were defying orders to evacuate.

Electrical storms already sparked dozens of wildfires across the West in recent days, sending fire crews scrambling, threatening communities and impairing air quality in some areas.

Near the central Idaho community of Pine, the lightning-sparked Elk Complex Fire had burned 141 square miles of sage brush, grass and pine trees in rugged, mountainous terrain by Monday.

A few miles to the south, another big fire, the Pony Complex, had burned nearly 225 square miles of ground amid escalating winds and temperatures. Though it’s now about a third contained, downed power lines complicated efforts by firefighters to corral the flames.

Pine and neighboring Featherville were under mandatory evacuation orders Monday, a day after Elmore County sheriff’s deputies went from house to house, knocking on doors to alert residents to clear out of the area.

But some people, including Pine resident Butch Glinesky, opted to stay and watch over their property in this rustic vacation area some 50 miles east of Boise.

“As much as they say we need to be out, I think we can always offer something,” Glinesky said. “It’s just, you know the area.”

Residents’ insistence on staying wasn’t generally welcomed by federal officials, who expressed concerns about added traffic on the roads.

“People have a false sense of security,” Boise National Forest District Ranger Stephaney Church told The Associated Press. “We can’t do our job when they refuse to leave and we’re diverting resources” to get them out of their houses.

Last year, the Trinity Ridge Fire burned several miles away, blackening nearly 228 miles and forcing hundreds to temporarily evacuate Featherville.

This year, fire officials say the Elk Complex has moved much faster, dipping in and out of ravines and torching ponderosa pine trees on ridge tops.

“Everything is behaving like it has no moisture at all,” Church said.

The fire has destroyed several homes, fire officials said, though exactly how many had not yet been determined Monday.

In north-central Washington state, a lightning-sparked wildfire grew to more than 9 square miles of dry grass and shrubs. Fire managers said the Milepost 10 Fire was 70 percent contained, and evacuated residents of 78 homes were allowed to return home late Monday. The fire was burning about eight miles south of Wenatchee, overlooking the Columbia River.

Meanwhile, mudslides were posing problems just south of the fire, where thunderstorms have dropped heavy rain at the site of another recent blaze. Three homes may have been pushed off their foundations, Chelan County, Wash. emergency officials said.

In Utah, firefighters worked to contain several lightning-caused fires, including one near the Goshute Indian Reservation in Skull Valley that was threatening more than 20 structures and estimated at 10.5 square miles.

Most of Monday’s fire growth was contained atop the Stansbury Mountains, away from homes, but crews feared overnight winds could push the blaze toward threatened properties, fire information officer Joanna Wilson said.

Idaho’s fires, sparked by lightning last week, have led to the closure of more than 1,200 square miles of Boise National Forest land.

Firefighters hope the Elk Complex Fire will be pushed by the wind toward the area charred by the Trinity Ridge Fire that moved so close to town a year ago; if that happens, there will be less dry fuel, given so much already burned a year ago.

For some residents, the fire activity this season seems more imposing than the flames of the Trinity Ridge Fire.

“It burned differently,” said Kylie Rivera, who works in the kitchen at the Pine Resort.

Along with Rivera, other employees who had opted to stay had their vehicles parked nearby, just in case they needed to make a break quickly, said Pine Resort owner Allen Kiester.

“We don’t need no more of this,” Kiester said.

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