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Originally published Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 12:31 AM

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Wildfire spurs evacuation of Idaho’s Sun Valley area

The Associated Press

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BOISE — Sheriff’s deputies Friday expanded evacuation orders to 1,600 homes near the Idaho mountain resort community of Sun Valley as a wind-driven wildfire burned through sage and pine trees.

The evacuation orders for the 100-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire included homes in the foothills west of Hailey and extending to north of Ketchum in Central Idaho.

“Pack your essential belongings, family and pets, and GO NOW,” the Blaine Country Sheriff’s Office instructed residents as the Beaver Creek Fire grew.

More than 600 state and federal firefighters were working to get the blaze under control and protect homes in the affluent resort region that’s a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis.

An additional 1,000 firefighters were expected to report to the scene late Friday, said Shawna Hartman, spokeswoman for the Beaver Creek Fire.

Fire managers say the fire grew rapidly Friday because of wind gusts topping out at 30 mph, low humidity and tinder-dry ground fuels.

“The fire activity is extreme,” Hartman said. “It’s safe to say we’ve got a lot of structures at risk.”

Managers at the Sun Valley Ski Resort turned on water cannons that are normally used for wintertime snow-making.

One home in an outlying valley was destroyed late Thursday, said Bronwyn Nickel, a spokeswoman for Blaine County.

Some private insurers have sent in their own crews to provide structural protection for homes with values that can stretch into the millions of dollars, Nickel said.

“There are private engines that insurance companies have sent in,” she said. “They’re on site, they’re working with our local firefighters and law enforcement.”

Officials said crews spent Friday building fire lines and trying to funnel the fire into areas burned during another blaze in 2007.

A DC-10 tanker, capable of carrying 12,000 gallons of fire retardant, was among aircraft making drops on the blaze.

Jack Sibbach, a Sun Valley Resort spokesman, was forced to leave his home south of Ketchum on Friday. He said he watched as airplanes and helicopters made runs in roughly 3-minute intervals, dropping water and red retardant to create a barrier against flames west of Highway 75.

The resort turned on snow cannons on Bald Mountain, he said, largely to protect lodges atop the mountain.

“The fire’s not that close to Baldy, but with the wind, you’re worrying about things sparking,” Sibbach said. “Things could jump ahead.”

Flying in separate aircraft, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell took an aerial tour of the fire area.

Elsewhere in Idaho, firefighters were gaining the upper hand on the Elk and Pony complex fires a week after flames torched dozens of cabins and other structures. Both of those fires, and the nearby McCan Fire, were closer to being contained Friday.

The towns of Ketchum, with a population of 2,700, and Sun Valley, with 1,400 people, were under pre-evacuation orders, with residents advised to prepare their belongings in case they were required to leave quickly.

Fire managers “are just adding an extra layer of caution to the plan that they started last night,” said Rudy Evenson, a spokesman for the federal team overseeing the blaze. “We have a forecast for 30 mph winds at the ridge tops.”

Southbound traffic on Highway 75 was backed up, as many residents and vacationers opted to flee. Traffic was “bumper to bumper,” Hailey resident Jane McCann said by phone Friday.

“The smoke is unbearable,” said McCann, who was in her car. “Today in Hailey, you couldn’t see the mountains from Main Street.” By late Friday, portions of the highway were closed.

Elsewhere in the West, shifting winds in Utah’s Skull Valley pushed another wildfire across Utah Highway 99 toward the community of Terra, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, forcing the evacuation of several homes and a campground.

Calmer winds to the northwest allowed some evacuation orders to be lifted near Park City, the Utah mountain ski-resort town.

However, about 110 homes about 10 miles from the town, a 2002 Olympics venue, remained off-limits to residents, as crews mopped up hot spots.

Summit County District Fire Warden Bryce Boyer said Friday there were also downed, potentially live power lines to contend with — and 500- or 1,000-pound propane tanks outside the homes leaking because the valves burned.

“We want to assess the safety of those structures before we release the evacuation,” Boyer said.

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