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Idaho town ordered evacuated as wildfire closes in; blazes battled across West

A dangerous wall of flames is steadily closing in on Featherville, Idaho. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

As an Idaho wildfire was closing in on two small towns Saturday, hundreds of Washington and California residents who earlier fled flames were returning to their communities to see if their homes were spared.

In Idaho, homeowners in Featherville and Pine have been preparing for days as flames from the nearly 83,000-acre Trinity Ridge Fire have approached the towns.

Officials ordered Featherville residents to evacuate late Saturday afternoon as smoke from the approaching blaze created a health hazard, the Elmore County Sheriff's office told NBC station KTVB.

The fire was expected to reach Featherville, about 60 east of Boise, late Saturday or early Sunday, Gary Lehnhausen, a fire information officer with the Trinity Ridge Fire, told KTVB.


NOAA via AFP - Getty Images

This NOAA image obtained August 18, 2012 shows the smoky haze has lifted over Northern California, Nevada and Idaho, revealing the many fires afflicting the region.

Fire activity increases in the warm afternoon sun as humidity dips to 5 percent and vegetation on surrounding hills dries out, Lehnhausen said, making it difficult for the 1,082 firefighters assigned to the blaze.

“Don’t expect a rush of flames,” he said. Expect to see spot fires and trees torching, he said.

The fire burning through timber grew 15 square miles overnight.

Idaho National Guard members are scheduled to begin assisting firefighters on Sunday.

Fire came close to historic mining town of Rocky Bar but no buildings were damaged, KTVB reported.

Pine, about 10 miles from Featherville, is the next town that will have firefighters’ attention.

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In central Washington, fire officials prepared for the possibility that lighting and thunderstorms could make it more difficult to contain the 23,000 acre Taylor Bridge fire that destroyed 48 homes and 15 other structures.

Full containment was not expected until Monday, NBC station KING reported, but many residents were returning to the south and east sides of a 35-square mile blaze near the town of Cle Elum in the Cascade Range, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

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"People are finding a little bit of everything. Some homes were damaged, some homes were destroyed and some homes weren't even touched," Fred Slyfield, emergency management specialist for Kittitas County, Wash., said Saturday morning.

Wildfires continue to burn across the country, with flames racing through Washington State for the fifth day and two small communities in Idaho bracing for the worst. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

About 900 firefighters and eight helicopters were still building a line around the fire, which started Monday at a bridge construction project and exploded through dry grass, brush and trees. More than 400 people fled their homes. About 30 people are in local shelters, Slyfield said.

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Fire danger remained high in the area, with hot, dry weather and a chance for storms and lightning expected Saturday evening.

"We're kind of on edge about that," said Mick Mueller, a spokesman at the fire command center.

Crews in California made progress on some of the nearly dozen wildfires burning across that state. About 400 residents were allowed to return home in a rural area of San Diego County in the southern part of the state.

Firefighters also have been making progress against a series of wildfires burning in Northern California, but officials say more than 900 lightning strikes late Friday and early Saturday have started more fires.

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Blazes in multiple states threaten houses and cause evacuations.

State fire spokesman Daniel Berlant says lightning sparked more than a dozen new fires late Friday and early Saturday, though most of the new fires are small.

Related: What would you take? A couple pack to flee wildfire in Washington

Meanwhile, firefighters continued to battle two huge wildfires on national parklands in Northern California. The nearly 1,200 firefighters struggling to surround the Chips fire in Plumas National Forest have the fire 34 percent contained.

 

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