Idaho wildfire destroys six homes southeast of Boise
Author: Laura Zuckerman and Keith Coffman
A small but destructive wildfire driven by strong winds has destroyed six houses and five outbuildings in Idaho, while two much larger blazes threatened dozens of dwellings in Wyoming and Colorado, authorities said on Tuesday.
As many as 30 people were ordered out of residences near Mountain Home, a community of 15,000 people about 40 miles southeast of Boise, after flames engulfed a barn on Monday evening and spread to nearby structures, authorities said.
No injuries were reported. But the 150-acre blaze marked an early start to fire season in the Northern Rockies, said Mallory Eils, fire officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"We haven't seen this amount of activity so early in the season for quite a few years," she said.
Fire crews expected to completely contain the blaze on Tuesday. Its cause was under investigation. Rudy Foote, a sergeant with the Elmore County Sheriff's Office, said evacuees were allowed to return late on Monday to the rural Mountain Home development, which he described as "blasted."
Fierce winds were a factor across much of the northern Rockies, including central Wyoming, where a wildfire prompted the evacuation of 50 rural homes near the town of Douglas on Monday, then doubled in size overnight.
Charring nearly 2,600 acres of dry timber and brush in the Medicine Bow National Forest as of Tuesday morning, the Wyoming blaze burned around several residences without damaging them, forest spokesman Aaron Voos said.
He said the fire, which erupted on Sunday and was likely caused by lightning, was expected to grow significantly due to high winds and high temperatures.
"Typically, the fire season doesn't happen on this forest until July through September; this year, it's May and June," he said.
In northern Colorado, crews grappling with the 59,500-acre High Park Fire braced for another challenging day because of 90-degree temperatures, low humidity and erratic winds, fire managers said.
"The swirling winds can be problematic," incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said.
Late on Tuesday morning, a spot fire within the burn area sent a column of smoke visible for miles into the air, prompting authorities to issue pre-evacuation alerts for residents of a subdivision on the blaze's northwest flank, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman said.
"We're hitting it hard with heavy choppers" dropping water on the flames, Cloudman said.
The lightning-sparked Colorado blaze is blamed for one death, and has destroyed 189 homes in the 11 days it has raged through rugged mountain terrain in the Roosevelt National Forest and private property west of Fort Collins.
Officials said ground crews had managed to carve containment lines around half of the fire's perimeter.
(Editing by Steve Gorman, Doina Chiacu)