- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

IDAHO CITY, Idaho (AP) - A southwest Idaho wildfire burning timber in rugged terrain early on Thursday crossed a state highway and threatened a backcountry yurt system popular among winter recreationists.

Officials say the 20-square-mile blaze burning west to east crossed State Highway 21 about 5 miles south of Lowman.

“They have crews over there, it looks like they can get to it by land,” fire spokeswoman Susan Blake said.

The spreading fire threatens the backcountry yurt system. There are six yurts with a replacement cost of $60,000 each that are booked solid through the winter by cross country and telemark skiers, said Leo Hennessy, who manages the system for Idaho Parks and Recreation.

The yurts, round, tent-like structures with a dome roof and plastic skins, have 20-foot diameters and remain in place all year. They are also used in the summer.

Hennessy said losing the yurts would eliminate the revenue that makes the 60-mile trail system financially self-supporting. About 26 miles of trails are groomed in the winter, though telemark skiers head for powder runs on nearby slopes.

“I’m concerned that if we lose those yurts we will no longer be able to continue the program,” Hennessy said.

He said fire officials told him that firefighters wrapped the six yurts in fire-protective material.

About 23 miles of the highway are closed from north of Idaho City to south of Lowman.

Officials said temperatures in the 90s and unstable air conditions have contributed to the fire’s growth and that it’s advancing by sending out embers ahead of flames.

About 1,000 firefighters supported by 10 helicopters and retardant drops by other aircraft are fighting the blaze.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team, which handles the nation’s largest and most complex fires, took over planning for the fire Thursday morning. The team is being commanded by Beth Lund, whose daughter is a member of the Boise Hotshot Crew that is fighting the fire, Blake said.

Several mining structures have been lost, she said, but it’s not clear if they were in use or from historic mining. She said no homes are under evacuation in the lightly populated area.

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