Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Wildfire threatens Idaho resort towns

Reuters, SALMON, Idaho

A fast-moving central Idaho wildfire forced the evacuation of 2,250 homes near the tourist towns of Hailey and Ketchum as firefighters on Saturday lost ground against the blaze that also threatens the Sun Valley ski resort.

Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey called for occupants on the outskirts of both towns to leave without delay. He expanded evacuation zones to include residential developments north of Ketchum.

The rapidly moving wildfire has burned more than 37,230 hectares of sagebrush flats, pine forests and granite canyons in the Sawtooth Range west of a highway that links Hailey — a town of about 8,000 people — to Ketchum and Sun Valley.

More than 1,000 people have fled upscale subdivisions on the southern outskirts of Ketchum, where some homes are worth tens of millions. The area features the vacation getaways of celebrities like former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Tom Hanks.

The blaze has sent towering columns of smoke over the tourist towns nestled in a narrow mountain valley known for premier hiking, biking, fishing and skiing.

An animal shelter on the west side of Hailey, where flames enveloped a mountain ridge and raced toward a city park below, was safely emptied, Blaine County Deputy Sheriff Anita Selner said.

Hundreds of firefighters were battling to keep flames from crossing to the east side of the highway that links the three towns and is the sole developed road out of the valley.

The so-called Beaver Creek fire has claimed one primary residence, one bunkhouse and six other buildings since being sparked by lightning on Aug. 7, federal fire information officer Sandy Miller said.

About 30 people stayed overnight at an American Red Cross shelter in Hailey, where onlookers gathered as air tankers equipped with fire retardant and helicopters with water buckets flew overhead.

The valley is one of several high-end enclaves in western US states that have been menaced in recent days by wildfires fueled by record heat, drought and fierce winds.

Crews grappling with the Beaver Creek fire were warned that conditions could rapidly deteriorate amid rising temperatures and winds.

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