By Todd Dvorak Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — Crews battling a wildfire in the forest northeast of Idaho’s capital city have nearly half of the blaze contained and are hoping to finish the job Thursday.
The Avelene Fire, burning in a section of the Boise National Forest about 25 miles northeast of Boise, has scorched 210 acres so far and is responsible for the evacuation of nearby homes.
The fire is one of a handful of fires in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon responsible for the thin veil of smoke hovering above the Boise area, prompting state health officials on Thursday to downgrade the air quality rating for the Treasure Valley.
“There is another hot day ahead of us, and we need to get through the main burning period, but that being said, crews have made excellent progress,” Boise National Forest Spokesman Dave Olson said of the Avelene Fire.
The voluntary evacuation order issued Wednesday remains in effect. Officials say residents from fewer than 10 homes within a mile of the fire perimeter stayed away from their home Wednesday night. Fire managers are hoping to have the fire contained by Friday night.
For the second consecutive week, fire crews and air tanker pilots have been busy battling blazes across southern Idaho. Weeks of high temperatures and sparse rain have dried up rangeland and lower elevation mountain forests faster than normal.
Despite abundant winter snow and a moist spring, Olson said conditions in the forests ranging between 2,500 feet and 6,500 feet are dryer than the 20-year average.
“If you’re walking through the woods at those altitudes, you’ll notice the pine needles are starting to crunch and the branches cracking more than bending,” Olson said. “Higher up, it’s still reasonably wet and green because the snow held for so long. But more high heat and dry days could change that pretty quickly.”
State and federal forest managers are also considering imposing tougher restrictions on campfires in state and national forests across the state.
More than 150 firefighters are battling the C Fire burning 10 miles east of Donnelly. The fire is 30 percent contained and is burning in thick, dense timber.
Firefighters also have gained the upper hand on the Kinyon Road Fire, which flared up Saturday and so far has burned more than 367 square miles of grass and sagebrush near the south-central town of Castleford, making it the biggest blaze in Idaho this year.
Fire spokesman Jerry Rohnert said the fire is 90 percent contained, with full containment expected later Thursday.
“We’ve still got about 200 people working on the fire, but many are expected to be reassigned to other fires in Idaho or other states tomorrow,” he said.
Several of the fires ignited by lightning strikes Wednesday between Twin Falls and Pocatello also have been contained or are close to it, fire officials said.