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Idaho firefighters brace for windy weather

Firefighters on Sunday braced for a second day of windy weather that has stoked a huge wildfire and forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Firefighters on Sunday braced for a second day of windy weather that has stoked a huge wildfire and forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes.

The blaze near the mountain town of Ketchum in central Idaho surged on Saturday, when wind also grounded firefighting aircraft, but on Sunday officials said no buildings had been lost and no one had been seriously injured.

The lightning-caused fire had spread across 40 square miles. The main concern Sunday was wind-blown embers that can start new fires ahead of the main blaze, said Julie Thomas, fire information officer for the Sawtooth National Forest. She said crews stationed in residential areas had put out such fires within 200 yards of buildings.

“Today is a critical day for the fire,” said Thomas.

Blaine County authorities announced Sunday that most schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Saturday’s evacuation order covered residential areas ranging from mobile home parks to homes worth millions of dollars.

Thomas said fire managers would do everything possible to keep the blaze from crossing to the east side of a highway that runs north-south down the center of the Wood River Valley.

“It would be bad,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of homes over there. It could go a long ways.”

Elsewhere, efforts to block a blaze on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that started more than three weeks ago have been complicated in some areas by black bears.

Fire officer Keith Murphy heard a crack Saturday, looked up and saw a 200-pound bear about 10 feet away, the Michigan Department of National Resources said.

“He and the bear stared each other down for a moment, then Keith began waving his arms and yelling,” the DNR said in a statement. “The bear took a couple of steps back, stopped and stared Keith down again.

“Keith slowly walked backward, got on his ATV and left.”

Another fire officer had an encounter with a 150-pound bear, the DNR said.

The Michigan fire has covered more than 18,000 acres, or about 28 square miles, and is roughly 80 percent contained.

Stubborn fire in California
In California, crews fighting a huge, stubborn fire in the Santa Barbara County wilderness worked under cloudy skies Sunday and a threat of lightning that could spark a new blaze. The cooler weather and higher humidity could slow the flames but also carried the chance of lightning that could ignite dense chaparral.

“There’s been some clouds and some moisture,” fire spokesman Larry Griffith said. “It’ll be good as long as we don’t get some lightning to start another fire.”

Little or no rain was predicted in Los Padres National Forest, where the fire has burned for about seven weeks.

The fire was 85 percent contained after burning 241,550 acres, or about 377 square miles of steep backcountry. No buildings were in imminent danger but about 20 homes and some 46 commercial and outbuildings were in its path.

In Los Angeles County, a fire broke out Sunday in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, forcing about two dozen hikers to evacuate, county fire Capt. Mike Brown said.

The 10-acre fire began beneath some electrical high-tension wires above the community of Altadena, Brown said. No homes were immediately threatened.