Extremely dry and windy conditions set the stage for increased fire activity on the already massive Soda Fire, causing it to jump U.S. 95 a second time as it moved toward Homedale, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reports.
The Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office evacuated homes in the Poison Creek area south of Homedale that borders BLM as well as the west end of Cemetery Road, Thompson Road, Graveyard Point and Market Road, the BLM reported Wednesday night. Earlier, evacuations had been suggested, but changing conditions led to “hard evacuations,” the agency reported. Retardant was being dropped in the area to protect homes.
The Soda Fire, likely started by lightning, has surpassed 200,000 acres and is still growing, the BLM said . About 25,000 acres have burned in Oregon, where the BLM warned the fire could threaten Adrian and Nyssa.
Crews closed the stretch of U.S. 95 between the U.S. 55 junction and Jordan Valley, Ore., on Thursday morning as crews back-burned along the highway, an Owyhee County dispatcher said. The highway had been open overnight.
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For three and a half hours Wednesday evening, U.S. 95 closed from the Marsing weigh station in Idaho to Jordan Valley, Ore., and authorities encouraged people to avoid the highway if possible because of intense fire activity. That stretch of U.S. 95 previously was closed from late Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning after the fire jumped the highway.
Officials cautioned that it could close again.
With steep terrain and visibility issues, firefighters are having difficulty containing the fire.
“Multiple breakouts spreading as fast as 1.5 miles in 8 minutes and having spot fires growing to 1000 acres in 10 minutes shows how fast this fire is moving,” the BLM said in an evening news release. “With structures in the area crews are putting a lot of effort into protecting structures and property.”
Fire information will be posted at the intersection of highways 55 and 95, and at the fire’s incident command post at the Homedale Armory.
A Type II incident management team will take over management of the fire Thursday, and more ground and air resources are expected, the BLM said. BLM resources from Oregon and members of the Owyhee Rangeland Fire Protection Association are helping to fight the flames. Air support has been at the scene since early on.
Steep terrain and visibility issues have posed a challenge to firefighters, who are trying to both contain more of the fire and keep areas already within fire lines from breaking out. The BLM cited incidents of breakouts where fire spread a mile and a half in eight minutes.
The Jump Creek recreation site has been closed, and the BLM advises the public to stay away from the Reynolds Creek area and surrounding recreational sites.
Ranches are scattered through the area, and no figures were available on livestock and other losses.
Meanwhile, five new lightning-related fires were started by thunderstorms moving through Southwest Idaho Tuesday afternoon, the BLM reports. Small fires burned near Mountain Home, southwest of Grandview and southeast of Silver City.
To the north, managers of both the Boise and Payette national forests also reported fire activity caused by lightning, though the fires involved were mostly small. The largest fire in the Boise National Forest was the 300-acre West Scriver Fire, 13 miles north of Crouch in the Southern Idaho Timber Protection Association’s jurisdiction. The only active fire in the national forest Wednesday was the Bridge Fire, near Silver Creek Lookout, and it was contained at 2 p.m., officials said.
The Payette National Forest reported firefighters continued to be busy fighting six small fires. It also sent resources to help with the West Scriver Fire.
In North Idaho, lightning reportedly sparked 100 new fires, prompting evacuation warnings and closure of a section of Idaho 64.