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Rain helps firefighters on large west-central Idaho blaze burning in timber


BOISE, Idaho — Rain is helping about 1,100 firefighters battling a large blaze Friday in west-central Idaho.

Fire managers say fire behavior on the 148-square-mile fire three miles east of Riggins has been reduced to smoldering and creeping activity after the overnight rain. The fire is 30 percent contained.

"That moisture really helped reduce the fire growth," said spokeswoman Leslie Velarde. "At the same time, it did create some safety concerns."

She said the wet soil has caused fire-damaged trees to become loose as well as large rocks. "It's limited access to some fire areas," she said.

Ten helicopters are assigned to the blaze that drew much more attention after jumping the Salmon River over the weekend and consuming 47 square miles. Velarde said a barn and shed were destroyed during that expansion.

But the fire has grown little in recent days and the Idaho County Sheriff's Office has been lowering evacuation levels in many areas to the lowest level, meaning residents should be alert for changes but are not in immediate danger.

Also, earlier this week the Salmon River reopened for rafters, though some takeouts in the burned area are closed.

Velarde said crews on Friday were protecting buildings along the Salmon River and U.S. Highway 95 in case the fire picks up again. Firefighters are also working to strengthen fire lines, especially on the northwest and northern flank of the fire.

In northern Idaho, two wildfires that have burned about 12 square miles have destroyed a fire lookout near the town of Powell where residents have been told to be alert in case they have to evacuate. Fire managers said about 500 firefighters are trying to stop the fire from reaching private lands.

Also in northern Idaho, about 300 firefighters have a 106-square-mile group of fires in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest 80 percent contained.

But fire managers say the fire has moved into rugged terrain where traditional fire lines can't be built, and instead old roads and ridge-top trails are being considered as potential natural barriers.

Fire managers say they are working to protect timber assets while avoiding disturbing sites with cultural and historical significance, including the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

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