BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A wildfire in southwestern Idaho fanned by shifting winds and numerous storm cells grew twelve times in size over a 24-hour span to 187 square miles by Wednesday, causing roughly 50 homes to fall under an evacuation notice and threatening valuable habitat for the sage grouse.
The fire about 40 miles southwest of Boise had an estimated 200 firefighters backed by about a dozen aircraft as well as fire engines and bulldozers attacking the blaze in grassland and sagebrush.
Fierce winds helped push the fire as fast as a mile and a half in eight minutes, and in some spots the fire grew 1.5 square miles in 10 minutes.
“The problem is that this fire is not dying down,” said Christine Ballard with the Owyhee County Sheriff’s office, which issued the evacuation order Wednesday afternoon. “Winds are pushing this fire closer to homes. We’ll probably have to evacuate more before the day is done.”
There are no reports of injuries or structures lost in the sparsely populated area.
About 40 square miles of the fire is in Oregon.
Officials say 15 square miles of top-level sage grouse habitat has burned. This is a concern because authorities are expected to decide this fall whether sage grouse need federal protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss will be a key consideration in whether the bird will be listed.
“This is the last thing anybody wanted to see, but not surprising to anybody that it could have happened,” John Freemuth, a Boise State University professor and a public lands expert. “This is sort of the worst case.”
Elsewhere in Idaho, lighting strikes in forests have started numerous fires, including the Lawyer Complex in northern Idaho, which consists of about 21 fires consuming 3 square miles. Fire officials have issued mandatory evacuations, but they did not have information on how many homes were threatened as of Wednesday evening.
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