Firefighters hold back flames threatening towns in Idaho, California

Fri Aug 17, 2012 8:25pm EDT

1 of 3. A U.S. Forest Service equipment trailer is seen beside a wildfire at the Springs Fire in Boise National Forest near Banks-Garden Valley, Idaho in this August 13, 2012 photograph made available to Reuters on August 17, 2012. The Idaho blaze, sparked by a utility vehicle that caught fire, has charred nearly 70,000 acres of sagebrush and woodlands east of Boise over the past six days, burning a rental cabin and six non-residential structures, authorities said.

Credit: Reuters/Kari Greer/US Forest Service/Handout

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(Reuters) - Firefighters in Idaho's Boise National Forest held the line on Friday against a week-old blaze closing in on a small mountain resort, while evacuation orders were lifted for two communities menaced by lightning-sparked flames in Southern California.

The so-called Trinity Ridge blaze on the edge of the Rockies and a cluster of wildfires northeast of San Diego had posed two of the most immediate threats to populated areas among dozens of fires raging out of control in recent days across the sun-baked western United States.

No major injuries or loss of life of residents have been reported in the region during the week. One U.S. Forest Service firefighter was killed on Sunday by a falling tree.

The Idaho blaze has scorched more than 72,000 acres of sagebrush and timber east of Boise since it erupted seven days ago when a utility vehicle caught fire, destroying a rental cabin and six non-residential buildings in its path.

Authorities said earlier this week they feared the blaze would overrun the small town of Featherville, prompting some residents to flee on Wednesday night as flames crept to within four miles of the community.

Shadows cast by a giant pall of smoke from the blaze cooled temperatures on the ground, helping firefighters slow the advancing flames and giving them more time to create defensible space in and around the town.

A contingent of more than 1,000 fire personnel focused much of their work on cutting additional fire breaks, clearing brush away from buildings and setting up sprinkler systems. They took similar measures in the nearby town of Pine.

Authorities estimated the two enclaves together were home to about 1,000 year-round residents and vacationers.

As of Friday, officials estimated that blaze, while still growing in all directions, was now at least two to three days away from invading Featherville proper, fire information officer Lisa Machnik said.

The fire burned through a smaller, outlying community north of Featherville, but protective measures taken for a handful of buildings there prevented damage to them.

GAINS AGAINST CALIFORNIA BLAZES

Hundreds of miles (km) to the south in California, some 1,500 firefighters appeared to be gaining an upper hand against a flurry of six lightning-caused fires that have charred nearly 23,000 acres near San Diego.

Evacuation orders were lifted on Thursday for about 400 residents in the rural communities of Ranchita and San Felipe who had been forced to flee their homes two days earlier, according to Captain Mike Mohler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"Firefighters made significant progress on fire containment overnight," he said in a statement.

More than 9,000 firefighters were battling about a dozen major blazes up and down California this week, including a lightning-caused fire along the Oregon border that consumed 80,000 acres and prompted an evacuation of 70 homes. Firefighters have carved containment lines around nearly a third of that blaze.

Separately, the gargantuan Holloway Fire, which ranks as the nation's biggest after devouring more than 462,000 acres in northern Nevada and southern Oregon, was reported to be 86 percent contained.

Another of The West's most-destructive fires in recent weeks flared into its fifth day near the town of Cle Elum in northwestern Washington state, as firefighters encircled about a third of that 22,000-acre (8,900-hectare) blaze.

The so-called Taylor Bridge Fire destroyed more than 70 homes this week and continued to threaten about 100 more, but fire managers said they were aiming for full containment by Sunday night.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash., and Teresa Carson in Portland. Writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Philip Barbara)

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