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Idaho town emptied as state's worst wildfire nears

Idaho's Trinity Bridge fire took a turn in its course, spreading within 10 miles of Featherville and Idaho City and putting residents on high alert. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports from Idaho.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET: Thick smoke Sunday enveloped the town of Featherville, Idaho, where residents had evacuated as the state's worst wildfire in years approached.

Mike Taibbi of NBC News reported from Pine, Idaho. M. Alex Johnson is a reporter for NBC News. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

The fire was approaching on two separate fronts and was expected to reach the mountain town about 50 miles east of Boise later Sunday. Authorities ordered an evacuation of the town Saturday, saying homes and businesses in the area were in "imminent danger."

Firefighters were lighting backfires to clear out potential tinder for the advancing flames of what has been dubbed the Trinity Ridge fire.

"It will not look the same in the next couple, three days as it looks today," incident commander Rick Harvey told residents at a public briefing. "We will do everything we can possibly do out there as firefighters to make sure that your community, the hills, the rivers are the same as (we) can."

Suzanne Durant, 63, was preparing to leave the cabin where she has lived alone for years. She showed off an arrangement of fire prevention measures she had cobbled together as she said she was more than ready to get out of town.

"This whole thing is surrounded by sprinklers," she said.

The fire has been called the worst in Idaho in years — a not uncommon report for what has been a brutal Western wildfire season.

About 5 million acres are destroyed in the average Western fire season, federal data show, but 6.4 million acres have already been consumed this year, with several weeks to go. 

Idaho firefighters have already used 1.2 million gallons of fire retardant this year, the most in at least 11 years, federal officials said.

Meanwhile, fire officials said a wildfire in northern California has consumed nearly 11 square miles near the towns of Minton, Shingleton and Viola. A state fire spokesman said 3,500 homes across the rural area along the border of Tehama and Shasta counties are threatened. The cause of fire has not been determined, but officials say it started after lightning strikes in the area.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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