Crews working to get southern Idaho wildfire larger than city of Los Angeles under control

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crews working to battle southern Idaho wildfire

BOISE, Idaho — Firefighters in the southern Idaho desert are hoping calmer, cooler weather Tuesday can help them gain ground on a wildfire that has scorched more than 510 square miles, or an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

The lightning-sparked fire was fueled by strong winds Sunday and Monday, blackening more than 327,000 acres and becoming the nation’s largest, actively battled wildfire since it ignited Saturday.

So far, crews have contained 10 percent of a fire burning across a desolate, flat landscape of sagebrush and cheatgrass.

Susan Marzec, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the fire so far is not posing a threat to homes or communities, but has destroyed some ranch buildings in an area about 35 miles south of Glenns Ferry.

Marzec said crews are working around the clock before the arrival of strong winds forecast later this week. The crew increased Tuesday to more than 600 firefighters, up from the 375 on the scene Monday.

“Right now, we’ve got crews all the way around the fire, working on building a line all around it,” Marzec said. “The potential for this fire is still there. There could be some pretty bad winds on Thursday, and if that happens, this could take off again.”

Officials used helicopters and jet tankers spraying fire retardant Sunday to slow fire growth fueled by wind gusts that reached 70 mph.

Utility crews were called to the region Monday to help restore power lost when fire burned down power poles and lines, cutting electricity to more than 80 customers in the small towns of Bliss and Hagerman. Twin Falls County officials also have approved a resolution declaring the burned region a disaster area in an attempt to help farmers and ranchers who suffered losses acquire low-interest government loans.

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