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posted: 8/19/2013 6:48 PM

Wildfires: More Idaho, Utah residents return home

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  • A helicopter makes a drop on a dozer line around a home to protect it from the Beaver Creek Fire on Sunday outside of Ketchum, Idaho.

    A helicopter makes a drop on a dozer line around a home to protect it from the Beaver Creek Fire on Sunday outside of Ketchum, Idaho.

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho authorities on Monday were slowly allowing evacuees to return to homes that just days ago were deemed at risk from a big and erratic wildfire burning near the affluent resort towns of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The Blaine County sheriff ended the mandatory evacuation order for up to 250 homes. Most of those residences are in subdivisions on the east side of the main highway connecting these communities and are farthest from the 160-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire.

About 1,850 homes were still affected by the evacuation as fire crews focused on protecting homes and structures that line foothills and gulches up and down the valley.

Meanwhile, persistent hot and dry weather kept conditions ripe for wildfires across the West.

In California, a wildfire forced hundreds of Butte County residents from homes some 60 miles north of Sacramento, while another blaze kept residents of a southern Sierra Nevada town on edge.

Elsewhere, dozens of homeowners in a mix of ranchland, orchard and timber in the Columbia River Gorge were told to prepare for evacuation. Crews battled wildfires burning on 3,000 acres outside The Dalles, a river city popular among windsurfers.

But those blazes have yet to reach the intensity or impact of Idaho's Beaver Creek Fire, ignited by lightning Aug. 7 and now burning in an area stretching from south of Hailey beyond Ketchum to the north.

The blaze was only 8 percent contained, but about 1,150 firefighters including elite teams known as hotshots looked to reinforce fire lines with the help of 14 helicopters and likely other aircraft.

"There will be lot of air operations going on today," said fire spokesman Richard Reuse. "The weather is favorable. The hotshots are excited they will be able to go direct on the fire. They can do that more safely today. In combination with the air resources it looks like today will be a good day."

The fire grew only about 5 square miles on Sunday as firefighters took advantage of less windy conditions and aircraft zoomed in and out with retardant drops.

About 50 miles to the west, residents of the mountain town of Atlanta were told to leave by noon Monday because the 3-square-mile Little Queens Fire was about 6 miles away, burning through dry timber toward the community.

"It's very rugged and steep country," said fire spokeswoman Julie Thomas.

Thomas said a shortage of resources due to other large wildfires in the region hampered firefighting efforts. Only about 30 firefighters were at the fire and about 10 firefighters were called to parachute into the remote area, she said.

An Elmore County dispatcher said the town has about 30 full-time residents plus seasonal residents. She didn't have an estimate on the number of homes involved in the evacuation.

In Utah, fire officials lifted an evacuation Monday morning for about 100 residents in Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches in Summit County, about 45 miles east of Salt Lake City.

They had been displaced since Tuesday when lightning ignited a fast-moving blaze that burned seven houses and one yurt in those subdivisions. The 3.1-squre mile fire was 90 percent contained.

Utah's biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire southwest of Salt Lake City, was 45 percent contained. The 50-square-mile blaze hasn't grown since Saturday.

The potential for erratic winds Monday was problematic for crews in Northern California, where the 3-square-mile Swedes Fire in Butte County had consumed one home and was threatening more than 400 structures. It was 45 percent contained, but evacuation orders for hundreds remained in place.

In the Southern Sierra, a lightning-sparked wildfire put residents of about 400 homes on alert in near the Alta Sierra ski area about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

In Oregon, residents of about 35 of the 70 homes threatened in an area 10 miles southwest of The Dalles were told to pack up and be ready to evacuate, said fire spokesman Dave Morman.

Two structures, one possibly occupied, burned Sunday. Containment of the fires was estimated at 12 percent.

Portland authorities, meanwhile, began evacuating campers on Government Island in the middle of the river after a large grass fire erupted Monday afternoon.

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