Image: A tanker plane drops a fire retardant
Shawn Raecke  /  AP
A tanker plane drops fire retardant on homes near Eagle, Idaho, on Wednesday.
updated 7/28/2010 8:31:50 PM ET 2010-07-29T00:31:50

At least three homes were damaged and dozens more evacuated Wednesday as a wind-whipped grassfire northwest of Idaho's capital city expanded to thousands of acres and threatened rural subdivisions. No injuries were reported.

Firefighting planes, water bucket-wielding helicopters and about 50 fire trucks, engines, water tenders, brush rigs and bulldozers were dispatched to the site about 15 miles northwest of Boise. More than 300 firefighters from multiple agencies combined to fight the blaze.

The fire, which was reported early Wednesday afternoon, began burning as an electrical storm moved through the area north of the town of Eagle, near State Highway 16. Lightning is the likely culprit, said Mallory Eils, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman on the scene.

"There was definitely a storm that moved through," Eils said, adding it was unclear just when crews would have the fire under control. "The smoke is definitely dissipating, they (firefighters) are probably getting a bit of a handle on it. But we keep getting these gusty winds coming out of the west."

No estimates for the blaze's size were available, but it likely encompassed several square miles.

This area's undulating sage- and cheatgrass-covered foothills have seen the arrival of several sprawling subdivisions in recent decades. Residents from evacuated homes were instructed to go to a nearby high school to wait out the flames.

"It looked like an inferno," one unidentified resident of an evacuated subdivision told KTVB-TV in Boise.

The region's dry desert landscape, coupled with high winds, make southwestern Idaho prime territory for fast-moving wildfires, given the right conditions. In August 2008, a fire just east of Boise killed one woman, destroyed 10 houses and damaged nine others. An equipment failure on Idaho Power Co. electricity lines ignited that fire.

A separate grassfire also was burning Wednesday in a remote area between Boise and Mountain Home in the southwestern Idaho desert. Also, the National Interagency Fire Center reported that the Teapot Dome fire, some 10 miles east of Mountain Home, has expanded to 600 acres, but is about 60 percent contained.

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