1,600 homes evacuated as Idaho wildfire grows

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Kevin Bullock, of Bellevue, Idaho, watches smoke from the 64,000 acre Beaver Creek Fire on Friday, Aug., 16, 2013, north of Hailey, Idaho. A number of residential neighborhoods have been evacuated because of the blaze. AP

BOISE, Idaho—A wind-driven wildfire burned its way through sage and pine trees near the Idaho mountain resort community of Sun Valley as sheriff’s deputies expanded evacuation orders to 1,600 homes.

The Beaver Creek Fire grew by 15 square miles (39 million square kilometers) Friday night and early Saturday to more than 144 square miles (373 million square kilometers).

The evacuation orders included homes in drainages and foothills west of the towns of Hailey and extending to north of Ketchum in central Idaho. Flames also crept closer to the Sun Valley Resort.

State and federal firefighters were working to get the blaze under control and protect property in the affluent resort region that’s a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis.

More than 700 firefighters are focused mostly on protecting homes and property. But hundreds more firefighters are en route as wildfires elsewhere in Idaho and other western states are brought under control.

Fire managers say the fire grew rapidly Friday thanks to wind gusts topping out at 30 mph (48 kph), low humidity and tinder-dry ground fuels.

“It’s safe to say we’ve got a lot of structures at risk,” said Shawna Hartman, spokeswoman for the Beaver Creek Fire.

Managers at the Sun Valley Ski Resort turned on water cannons that are normally used 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.

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 crews spent the day building fire lines and trying to funnel the fire into areas burned during another blaze in 2007. A huge DC-10 tanker, capable of carrying 12,000 gallons (45,400 liters) 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 3-minute intervals, dropping water and red retardant to create a barrier against flames west of US 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.

Flying in separate aircraft, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and US 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 were required to leave on a moment’s notice.—Brady Mccombs with Todd Dvorak in Boise

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