Wildfire threatens Idaho ski resort towns as 200 homes evacuated
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A wildfire raging across the central mountains of Idaho forced the evacuation of 200 homes in the tourist town of Hailey on Saturday as firefighters lost ground against a blaze threatening the nearby international ski destination of Sun Valley.
Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey and his deputies went door to door at 3 a.m. local time urging people to leave their homes on the west side of Hailey.
Authorities lifted the evacuation order for Hailey neighborhoods before midday on Saturday but warned it could be imposed again.
More than 1,300 houses in outlying developments mostly north of Hailey remained under a mandatory evacuation, in the path of a wildfire that has burned over 92,000 acres of sagebrush flats, pine forests and granite canyons in the Sawtooth Range, mountains west of a highway that connects Hailey to the communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley to the north.
More than 1,000 people have fled upscale subdivisions on the southern outskirts of Ketchum, where some homes are worth tens of millions of dollars. The blaze has sent towering columns of smoke over the tourist towns nestled in a narrow mountain valley known for premier hiking, biking, fishing and skiing.
More than 1,600 firefighters were expected to be on hand on Saturday to guard homes, cut fire breaks and extinguish hot spots to keep flames from crossing to the east side of the highway that links the three towns and is the only developed road out of the valley.
The so-called Beaver Creek fire has claimed one primary residence, one bunkhouse and six other buildings since being sparked by lightning on August 7, federal fire information officer Sandy Miller said.
Roughly 30 people stayed overnight at an American Red Cross shelter in Hailey, where gawking crowds gathered on Saturday as air tankers equipped with fire retardant and helicopters with water buckets flew overhead.
"A lot of people are just watching the fire and our customers are talking about nothing else," said Alexis Sualez, barista at Zaney's River Street Coffee House in Hailey. "People are pretty worried."
The region known as the Wood River Valley once depended on mining, but now tourism fuels the economy that was jump-started in 1936 with the construction of the ski resort in Sun Valley. The valley is crisscrossed by all-season recreation trails and gated subdivisions of log mansions and luxury homes that border the Sawtooth National Forest.
It is one of several high-end enclaves in Western states that have been menaced in recent days by wildfires intensified by record heat, drought and fierce winds. Fire managers have said that mix has complicated their efforts to fight blazes this season in parched states like Idaho.
Crews grappling on Saturday with the Beaver Creek fire were warned that conditions could rapidly deteriorate amid rising temperatures and gusting winds.
"There is definitely a sense of anxiety," said Blaine County spokeswoman Bronwyn Nickel as residents and vacationers fled the area.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)
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