BOISE • Strong winds continued to fuel wildfires ravaging across Idaho on Monday, where multiple blazes have resulted in the destruction of 42 homes and at least 79 buildings up north near the town of Kamiah.
Currently, 15 large wildfires are burning in Idaho, blackening nearly 545 square miles as of Monday, according to the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center. However, so many other smaller blazes are burning in Idaho that officials even officially named one the “Not Creative Fire” after trying to keep track of multiple wildfires starts over the weekend.
Near Kamiah, more than 700 firefighters along with 40 fire engines and four helicopters are fighting the blazes trying to protect homes. But residents along an 11-mile section of U.S. Highway 12 have been told to be ready to flee, the AP reported. The group of lightning-caused fires has scorched about 70 square miles of mainly forest and is 15 percent contained. A 70-year-old woman was killed Friday when she fell while preparing to flee.
Authorities said Cheryl Lee Wissler of Adams Grade died Friday from a head injury she sustained when she fell. An estimated 30 homes and 75 other structures were lost to the blaze.
Wind patterns near Kamiah were expected to slow down slightly on Monday, giving firefighters a break from the previously constant 25-mph gusts that pushed the fire dangerously close to homes, said Ryan Greendeer, a spokesman for the Clearwater Complex fire.
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“But naturally, we are a little bit wary of what’s going to happen,” Greendeer said.
The large concentration of wildfires not only in Idaho but also in Oregon, Washington and Montana has resulted in prolonged unhealthy air quality for counties in southwestern and northern Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Primarily, people with lung and heart diseases are at a greater risk to ozone exposure.
The agency has also enforced mandatory bans on outdoor burning and heating homes with wood.
On the Idaho-Oregon border, about 800 firefighters had a 443-square-mile wildfire 70 percent contained. Yet even after finally managing to contain most of the flames, fire officials warned that strong winds and low humidity were expected to hit southern Idaho throughout most of Monday, which can cause extreme fire activity.
As a result of potential volatile fire conditions, fire crews were prepositioned along the Highway 78 corridor, while others had prepped hose positions to protect structures.
The week-old fire killed 27 wild horses out of two different herds, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said. The federal agency opened a gate for the animals to escape, but the flames overtook the animals before they could get out of the herd area.
Because the fire destroyed the herd’s habitat, the bureau will launch an emergency effort to gather more than 200 horses in the near future.
The fire also scorched grassland needed for cattle and primary habitat for sage grouse, a bird under consideration for federal protections.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued a disaster declaration for Owyhee County over the weekend so the region’s predominantly farming community could get help immediately once the fire is contained.