Aggressive Wildfire Puts Firefighters on Defense in Idaho

August 14, 2007

Two cabins and a large outbuilding burned as wind-whipped flames flared 200 feet high Sunday on the Zena/Loon wildfire in north-central Idaho.

No injuries were reported, but firefighters struggled to protect buildings in the tiny mountain towns of Warren and Secesh.

Roads leading to Warren, about 120 miles north of Boise, were closed to all but emergency vehicles, said Robin Cole, public information officer. Residents of Warren declined to evacuate, and a safe area was set up in the town, she said.

Fifteen wildfires were burning in the state on Sunday, and had consumed 650 square miles.

The Zena/Loon fire has been marching toward Warren for more than a week, and skipped over two fire lines, a river and a road to get there.

“It just jumped over containment lines like they weren’t even there,” Cole said.

She said winds up to 35 mph put firefighters on the defensive Sunday, and they were protecting an unknown number of structures in Warren and Secesh, about 30 miles to the southwest. Falling embers shot out from the fire were the main concern, she said.

The lightning-caused Zena/Loon Fire was 93 square miles in size with no containment, Cole said. The fire was one of four making up the East Zone Complex, being battled by about 560 managers and firefighters.

Helicopters were also being used on Sunday, Cole said, though other fires in the region made air tankers unavailable.

“The competition for that resource is pretty extreme given the weather conditions we’re experiencing today and all the fire on the landscape,” she said.

She said similar weather was predicted for Monday, and low humidity could keep the fire active even at night, preventing firefighters from making much headway for the next several days.

At the nearby Cascade Complex of fires, 16 miles northeast of Cascade, residents were evacuated the Warm Lake area, said David Eaker, fire information officer.

“It’s to the point where we cannot guarantee their safety,” he said. “We’re facing conditions out there that have not been seen in Idaho for many years with as dry and as hot as it is.”

He said the Monumental Fire jumped a road about 4 p.m. Sunday, and winds up to 40 mph forced fire officials to pull firefighters off lines for their own protection.

The complex was about 80 square miles Sunday morning and had grown during the day, though it was unclear by how much, Eaker said.

Firefighters were protecting structures in the Warm Lake area. About 1,100 managers and firefighters were assigned to the blaze, and no serious injuries were reported.

“I think this whole area in Idaho is going to be facing this problem for a long time to come,” Eaker said. “It might take winter rains or snow to put them out.”

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