Fire crews in central Idaho are mounting an effort to push a wildfire toward an area scorched by a major fire last year as erratic winds and hot, dry conditions threaten to help the blaze grow.
Madonna Lengerich, a fire information officer on the incident, said the Elk Complex wildfire has spread to 153 square miles near Pine, southeast of Boise, and is only 5% contained. The fire was sparked by a series of electrical storms late last week.
Lengerich said firefighters are focusing on protecting homes and burning out dry, flammable vegetation to curb the fire's advance.
Similar burnout efforts are underway to the southwest on the nearby Pony Complex, where another wildfire has burned 225 square miles of sagebrush and grass.
Fire crews’ newest efforts are aimed at herding the Elk Complex fire toward a 234-square-mile area torched by the Trinity Ridge wildfire last year, where trees and brush are already blackened from the earlier burn.
Lengerich said moisture levels in Idaho’s forests are as low as they’ve been in 50 or 100 years, making the fire especially difficult to contain.
Dry thunderstorms Tuesday created erratic winds that pushed the wildfire down the mountainside toward hundreds of homes. The week’s forecast calls for hotter, drier conditions.
Lengerich said officials ordered a mandatory evacuation, but that some residents had chosen to stay. She estimated that between 75 and 100 residents in the area remain, down from 500 Sunday.
About 400 firefighters are working with helicopters and military cargo planes to stop the fire’s progress.
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