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Wildfires expand in northern and west-central Idaho, rafters evacuated

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BOISE, Idaho — Evacuation notices of various levels remain in effect in west-central Idaho, where a wildfire burning in timber expanded by 20 square miles in a day to 143 square miles by Tuesday afternoon.

Crews are working to protect structures along the Salmon River corridor, and rafters are being stopped and evacuated before entering the fire perimeter, fire managers said.

About 85 rafters have been evacuated and about 24 remain, though it's not considered a critical situation, fire spokesman Jose Acosta said. Delays are caused by a road along the Salmon River that intermittently closes because of fire activity.

The fire has expanded by more than 50 square miles after jumping the Salmon River over the weekend amid strong winds.

About 850 firefighters are battling the blaze in rugged terrain. More firefighters and resources are arriving because of the fire's threat to residents in the area.

"We're going to have a very methodical and cautious approach in bringing people on," Acosta said. "They need to develop some situational awareness."

Low humidity, air temperature above 80 degrees and winds up to 15 mph will make for challenging conditions, he said. Storms predicted through Thursday could cause additional fires with lightning.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the wildfire, determining the fire threatened such destruction that it would constitute a major disaster.

In northern Idaho, a 16-square-mile fire is about a mile and a half from the Fenn Ranger Station, built in 1936 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fire has expanded rapidly in recent days because of gusty winds and a shortage of firefighting resources, fire managers said.

Burnouts and a fire line on a ridge are in place to protect the station, fire spokeswoman Matti Sand said. The fire is one of a group of fires being fought by about 500 firefighters and three helicopters. Recent rain has helped slow the fire.

"It's looking good, but it's definitely still an active fire," Sand said.

Also, federal officials with the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and Nez Perce-Perce Clearwater National Forests in northern Idaho say much of the forests are closed to the public because of wildfires.

Idaho has 18 large fires, the most in the nation, the National Interagency Fire Center says.

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