Crews Gain Ground on Nation's #1 Priority Fire in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- The $2 million it's cost to fight the fire near Grangeville since last week appears to have paid off, with fire officials saying that fire lines etched into a steep rugged canyon are probably enough to protect 80 homes that had been threatened.

The Blackerby Fire, a human-caused blaze, has burned more than 4,000 acres and scorched forest land to within 200 yards of some of the homes.

''The control lines that are protecting the houses on the north side of the fire are now complete,'' said Laura Smith, a spokeswoman for the Blackerby Fire Information Center. ''The houses are pretty much protected. The control lines are there.''

The 500 firefighters working near this town of 3,200 to control the fire plan to turn their attention from the homes to where the fire jumped the South Fork Clearwater River last week, to protect a plantation of new trees on National Forest land, Smith said.

At least a dozen large blazes are still burning in Idaho, as well as multiple smaller blazes. Idaho currently is the most active of all states for fires. Still, cooler temperatures in the 70s and higher humidity helped firefighters gain ground for a second day on Sunday after what fire officials termed ''a long week.''

The Long-Ruggles Fire near Craigmont, which like the Blackerby is burning on Idaho Department of Lands-managed territory, held steady at about 4,400 acres and hasn't advanced further toward six homes used by cowboys to herd cattle from neighboring ranches.

More than 200 personnel were digging fire lines and nine aircraft including helicopters were dropping water on the blaze.

''Things went well today,'' said Tammy Frost, at the Department of Lands' Craig Mountain Supervisory Area office, where crews are coordinating the attack on Long-Ruggles. Frost estimated the fire, burning in steep terrain, at 15 percent contained.

''The way it's been going, it could be a lot more in a day or two,'' she said.

Idaho County, where Blackerby and Long-Ruggles are burning, was declared a disaster area late Friday by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, making the county eligible for additional state and federal funding. Also in Idaho County, the West Fork fire was burning along the Salmon River east of Riggins, though it didn't grow beyond the 400 acres reported Saturday, Smith said.

Elsewhere in the state, a fire ignited Friday evening by a plane crash that killed three members of an Idaho family was still burning Sunday afternoon. About 100 firefighters had been transported to the 17-acre Sheep Peak Fire five miles west of Cascade, and they expect to have it contained by Monday evening.

In the Salmon-Challis National Forest near the Idaho-Montana border, where more than a dozen fires are burning, a new blaze was touched off by a single tree lightning strike on the Leadore Ranger District near Mill Canyon. It was contained the same day.

A second new fire, the Cronks Fire, along State Highway 93 about 31 miles south of Salmon, grew to 2 acres before it was contained. Dirt that had been disturbed to install a fiber optic line helped create a fire line on that blaze.

Still, ''the cause of the fire is suspicious and is being investigated,'' said Gail Baer, a spokeswoman for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, adding the Cadagan Complex Fire, located 14 miles west of North Fork, is 2,400 acres and 45 percent contained.

She said the weather in the region will be partly cloudy with a slight chance of dry thunderstorms.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press