Fires: Winds may kick up blazes across Idaho

A dry cold front with wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour is expected to blow into the state Friday evening as firefighters continue to battle blazes that have blackened nearly 400,000 Idaho acres.

Those kinds of winds can hamper firefighting, said Sheldon Keafer, a spokesman for the Tepee Springs Fire off U.S. 95 about 20 miles south of Riggins.

The Fire Weather Watch for the Treasure Valley was canceled as of Friday morning, but the risk factor hasn’t gone down in other parts of Idaho, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service said the cold front won’t bring any moisture; daytime temperatures across much of the state will be in the 70s and 80s.

The Tepee Springs Fire has consumed about 7,000 acres, Keafer said. Evacuations are still in effect on the east side of Highway 95, north of Smoky Boulder Road and south of Hazard Creek Road. Officials closed a portion of the Payette National Forest on Thursday because of the blaze. No structures have been lost in the fire.

In the Boise National Forest, where crews are fighting the 811-acre Cougar Fire that is 48 percent contained, wind gusts on ridges could easily reach 35 mph, weather officials said. About 330 people are fighting that blaze.

Fire crews on the destructive Clearwater Complex near Kamiah in North Idaho did a proactive burn on Wednesday in anticipation of Friday’s winds, hoping to keep the fires from getting even worse, said David Early, a spokesman. More than 680 firefighters are working to put out blazes that have burned more than 60 square miles. The Clearwater Complex is 40 percent contained; it has destroyed more than 40 homes and also numerous buildings near Kamiah.

At the site of the Soda Fire, which was Idaho’s largest at nearly 300,000 acres, crews are beginning rehab. The are repairing bulldozer cuts in the ground that a spokesman said are sometimes mistaken by people for roads or trails.

They are also working on establishing what kinds of seed should be replanted in the burned ground.

“The Soda Fire is a natural disaster that hits us all close to home,” said acting BLM Boise District manager Jenifer Arnold.

In other fire news, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise announced Thursday that about 70 fire specialists and managers from Australia and New Zealand are expected to arrive in Boise on Sunday. After a one-day orientation to learn about current fire behavior, they will be assigned to large fires in the West.

The last time the U.S. asked for help from Australia and New Zealand was in 2008.