BAYVIEW, Idaho (AP) — A wildfire in northern Idaho has destroyed at least six homes and forced about 300 residents in an upscale lakeside community to evacuate as it ballooned to more than 3 square miles Monday.
Flames have burned through a mix of year-round residences and seasonal homes near the southern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, the state’s largest lake and a recreation and fishing destination. Fire managers have urged the rest of the small town of Bayview to leave their homes as strong winds, rising temperatures and low humidity threatened to fan the flames later in the day.
Officials feared the only two roads in and out of town would get clogged if everyone tried to leave at once, fire spokesman Tyler Drechsel said.
“If they evacuate now, it helps if these fires take off,” Drechsel said Monday morning, noting that afternoon forecasts call for wind gusts of more than 20 mph and temperatures in the mid-90s.
A high school will serve as an emergency shelter for the area about 70 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington.
Gov. Butch Otter declared Kootenai and Bonner counties a disaster emergency area Monday, a necessary step in securing federal funds.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and individuals who have lost homes in the area,” Otter said in prepared remarks. “We will continue to support the impacted jurisdictions in protecting lives, property and businesses.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is helping with the costs of firefighting and evacuations, said the fire was threatening 281 homes and about 300 people had been evacuated. Also threatened are a marina, the Naval Acoustics Research Station and Farragut State Park, FEMA said.
Eight air tankers, three helicopters and eight engines are helping to battle the fire, FEMA said
The blaze started Sunday near the shore of Lake Pend Oreille and burned upslope through timber, destroying other buildings such as boat houses and pump houses, fire spokesman Jim Lyon said.
About 100 firefighters dealing with steep terrain have put in a fire line between the blaze and homes to protect the properties, Lyon said.
A U.S. Navy boat was dousing some homes. The Navy operates a small submarine research facility in Bayview.
A team of investigators planned to examine where the fire started to try to determine a cause, Lyon said.
“We have a good idea of where it started,” he said. “There were people out on a boat that saw it. It started down low at lake level, or near the edge of the lake, and traveled up and southwesterly.”
No injuries have been reported from the fire, which is burning through a mix of private, state and federal land.