A massive wildfire raging in eastern Idaho is expected to spread and move toward communities with high winds, prompting weather officials to order evacuation of hundreds of homes and issue the highest threat warning for Monday.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday for portions of Idaho including the Highway 93 corridor in the Gibbonsville and North Fork areas, and later extended it to Monday, due to high winds, low humidity and the chance of thunderstorms. Gusts could reach 40 mph Monday, it said.
While no homes had been destroyed by the fire by early Monday, the Lehmi County Sheriff in eastern Idaho issued an evacuation order early Sunday for residents along U.S. Highway 93 from Quartz Creek to North Fork due to the threat of the 261,010-acre fire approaching closer to the communities.
Residents were advised to leave immediately to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion, and asked to stop or call the Red Cross shelter at Salmon Valley Baptist Church when exiting the area so officials could account for all residents. But not all were willing to follow the evacuation order, Reuters reported.
Fire trucks from a number of Idaho cities took up positions near the tiny towns of North Fork and Gibbonsville, which sit within a 21-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93, near the Montana border. "It's going to test us," fire information officer Bill Swartley was quoted as saying. "We will defend homes. But if it becomes a safety hazard to fire personnel, we will step aside and let the fire pass."
The Mustang Complex fire was ignited by thunderstorms and lightning in mountainous pine forests dissected by steep, narrow canyons in the Salmon-Challis National Forest over the July 28-29 weekend.
About 1,100 fire personnel were involved in managing the fire, which was 16 percent contained as of Sunday. Full containment is expected by Sept. 30.
A firefighter was taken to a local hospital Saturday but the extent of his injuries and his condition remained unclear.