PINE, Idaho — Firefighting planes dropped retardant and ground crews trailed water hoses today to keep a fast-moving and unpredictable wildfire from scorching homes in a remote Idaho hamlet, where residents have been evacuated ahead of a big blaze for a second straight year.
The lightning-caused Elk Complex Fire near the central Idaho community of Pine had burned 125 square miles of sage brush, grass and pine trees in rugged, mountainous terrain. A few miles to the south, another big fire, the Pony Complex, had burned nearly 190 square miles of ground amid escalating winds and temperatures.
Pine and neighboring Featherville were under mandatory evacuation orders today, a day after Elmore County sheriff’s deputies went from house to house, knocking on doors to alert residents to clear out of the area.
But some people, including Pine resident Butch Glinesky, opted to stay and watch over their property in this vacation area some 50 miles east of Boise.
The Elk Complex of fires was estimated at 125 square miles.
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“As much as they say we need to be out, I think we can always offer something,” Glinesky said, watching as a crew from Colorado set up structure protection in his yard. “It’s just, you know the area.”
Residents’ insistence on staying wasn’t generally welcomed by federal officials, who expressed concerns about added traffic on the roads.
“People have a false sense of security,” Boise National Forest District Ranger Stephaney Church told The Associated Press. “We can’t do our job when they refuse to leave and we’re diverting resources” to get them out of their houses.
Last year, the Trinity Ridge Fire burned several miles away, torching nearly 228 miles and forcing hundreds to temporarily evacuate Featherville.
This year, fire officials say the Elk Complex has moved much faster, dipping in and out of ravines and torching ponderosa pine trees on ridge tops visible as bright orange smudges through the smoke cloaking the valley floor.
“Everything is behaving like it has no moisture at all,” Church said.
The fire has destroyed several homes, fire officials said, though exactly how many had not yet been determined today.
Jeff Day, a game warden with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he toured a small settlement on the north side of a reservoir popular among boaters and anglers, called Fall Creek. There, he said, he’d seen several cabins burned to the ground, though the Fall Creek Resort was still intact.
Day said he believed all the people from Fall Creek had left by the time the flames arrived.
National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Madonna Lengerich declined to allow reporters to the site, saying the road below the charred hillside was too dangerous.
In north-central Washington state, a lightning-sparked wildfire grew to more than 9 square miles of dry grass and shrubs. Fire managers said the Milepost 10 Fire was threatening a power transmission line, and residents of 78 homes were told to evacuate. The fire was burning about 8 miles south of Wenatchee, above the Columbia River.
Meanwhile, mudslides were posing problems to the south, where recent thunderstorms dropped heavy rains at the site of another blaze. Three homes may have been pushed off their foundations, Chelan County, Wash. emergency officials said.
Mudslides also closed Highway 20 east of Rainy Pass on Washington’s North Cascades Highway.
In Idaho, the lightning-caused fires started late last week and have led to the closure of more than 1,200 square miles of Boise National Forest land.
Around Pine, firefighters helped residents clear brush around their homes and filled large plastic “pumpkins,” or pools, with thousands of gallons of water to spray from sprinklers to protect property.
For residents, the fire activity this season seems more imposing than the flames of the Trinity Ridge Fire that moved so close to town a year ago.
“It burned differently,” said Kylie Rivera, who works in the kitchen at the Pine Resort and was taking pictures of a helicopter ferrying water between the reservoir and the flames.
“Last year, there were clouds, the fire didn’t move so quickly,” Rivera added. “This year, it’s so clear and hot, they say the fire is creating its own weather. It’s hard to control.”
Along with Rivera, other employees who had opted to stay had their vehicles parked nearby, just in case they needed to make a break quickly, said Pine Resort owner Allen Kiester.
“All the help’s got their trucks ready,” Kiester said. “Their precious things are in their vehicles.”
Out front, two fire engines stood ready to help if needed.
Kiester pointed to the tin roof of the resort, noting it won’t burn, but conceded that having a wildfire in the neighborhood for the second straight year is bothersome.
“We don’t need no more of this,” Kiester said.