Idaho uses snow machines to fight fire at ski resort

BOISE, Idaho Mon Aug 27, 2007 2:02pm EDT

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BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - Officials in Idaho on Monday used snow-making cannons in an effort to fight a growing wildfire at the famed Sun Valley Ski Resort.

The Castle Rock Fire, which grew to 41,097 acres (16,630 hectares) on Sunday, has reached Bald Mountain, the ski hill home to Sun Valley. The snow-making cannons, which are normally used to create a blanket of artificial snow for skiers, are now hosing down grassy hillsides.

"The snow-making guns aren't going to stop a wildfire but they can prevent embers from starting fires in the grass," said Jack Sibbach, director of marketing for the Sun Valley Ski Resort.

The resort also began running some of its ski lifts to keep lift cables from getting overheated by hot spots.

The fires have reached an area known as Seattle Ridge, where a $12 million ski lodge is threatened by advancing flames. To prevent damage to the building, the U.S. Forest Service has stationed a structure protection crew at the site around the clock. The luxurious ski lodge was built in 1993.

The damage to Bald Mountain accompanies increased mandatory evacuations of about 1,000 people in the wealthy resort area. Numerous million-dollar homes as well as several mobile home parts were threatened by the wildfire.

Area schoolchildren who were set to attend their first day of school on Monday were given a reprieve as school was called off for Monday and Tuesday.

Weather in the central Idaho area was supposed to be better for firefighters, with calmer winds. Still, fire managers expected to see intense fire activity on Monday.

"The fuel conditions are still critically dry," said Jay Nichols, a spokesman for the California Interagency Command Team, the federal group managing the fire. The fire, which is only 31 percent contained, had 1,630 firefighters assigned to it Monday.

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