Crews Gaining on Blackerby Fire, but 50 Homes Still Threatened in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Fire crews have made progress on the Blackerby wildfire in northcentral Idaho but 50 homes remained threatened and evacuation orders were still in effect, officials said.

''The weather is definitely hotter and drier but the fire, particularly on the flank near all the homes, is cooling down,'' said Shannon Downey of the firefighting incident command team. ''We need to go into discussions about when to remove the evacuation order, but we're still showing structures threatened so it may not happen for another day or two.''

Idaho remained the nation's busiest state for major wildfire activity, with nine blazes covering about 27,000 acres. The largest is the 13,411-acre Granite Complex burning in the Seven Devils Mountains along the Idaho-Oregon border while the Blackerby blaze is the most expensive, ringing up a price tag of $3.1 million for the first week.

There were 725 firefighters on the Blackerby lines Tuesday and the fire was 40 percent contained at 4,800 acres with full containment expected Saturday. Incident Commander Tom Heintz told crews to ''stay focused, get on top of the open areas and get them cut off.''

Meanwhile, the nearby China Ten Complex 15 miles east of Grangeville overtook Blackerby as the top national priority in firefighting efforts as it flared up in heavy timber.

''It is very active and when it crossed over into the Silver Creek drainage it really started ripping,'' said Laura Smith of the Nez Perce National Forest in Grangeville.

A national fire team was called in Tuesday to take over management of the China Ten Complex. Fire officials expected that aerial mapping flights would show the burned area was larger than the official estimate of 1,900 acres. The fire was threatening the Pilot Knob lookout station, one of several remote watch towers in the forest that are staffed with fire-spotters each summer.

Officials at the Riggins office of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area said the Granite Fire in the Seven Devils area was cold along 50 percent to 70 percent of its perimeter. Crews that had been fireproofing structures at the Sheep Creek Ranch and the McGaffee Cabin, the latter listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were reassigned to firefighting.

In areas where structures are not threatened, the Granite Complex fire is being allowed to burn to eliminate heavy fuel accumulation and to help some plant species regenerate.

In the Salmon-Challis National Forest, 590 firefighters were working the Cadagan Complex 14 miles west of North Fork. It was 60 percent contained after burning 2,400 acres. Structures along the Salmon River, Spring Creek and Indian Creek were wrapped in fire-retardant covering to protect them.

Forest Service officials in Salmon also advised motorists not to stop to watch firefighting helicopters scoop up water. Dip sites are hazardous because wind gusts generated by heavy helicopters can reach speeds in excess of 200 miles an hour and can trigger rockslides onto vehicles or dislodge large tree branches, turning them into projectiles.

But national forest managers also said people should not be afraid to go camping, fishing and hiking in the woods despite the firefighting activity.

''We have seen some cooler temperatures in the Lochsa and Clearwater drainages over the past few days and would like to encourage visitors to get out and enjoy the national forests before the snow comes,'' Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Tom Reilly said in a statement.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press