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Clouds aid in battle against Idaho wildfire

People wore masks to guard against smoke as they walked Sunday along Main Street in Hailey, Idaho.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

People wore masks to guard against smoke as they walked Sunday along Main Street in Hailey, Idaho.

HAILEY, Idaho — Fire officials expressed optimism Sunday in their battle against a wildfire that has scorched about 160 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,300 homes near two central Idaho resort communities.

Officials said the fire near Ketchum and Sun Valley grew only about 12 square miles because of cloud cover the day before and the arrival of additional firefighters.

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More than 1,200 firefighters are now assigned to the Beaver Creek Fire, which is 9 percent contained.

Fire managers say both of the nation’s DC-10 jet retardant bombers have been used, but one experienced an engine malfunction after a drop Thursday. The jet made it back safely to Pocatello in southeastern Idaho but remains unavailable.

Fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman said nearly 90 fire engines are in the region, many protecting structures.

Lightning ignited the blaze Aug. 7. Fire officials estimated it grew to 144 square miles Friday night, fed by dry timber and underbrush.

The Beaver Creek Fire is the nation’s top-priority wildfire, in part because it’s burning so close to homes and subdivisions. Celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways in the region.

Early Saturday, the firefighting was hampered by thick smoke that engulfed Hailey, a town with 7,900 inhabitants 14 miles south of Ketchum, home of the Sun Valley Ski Resort.

Smoke stretching across the Big Wood River Valley also grounded the air attack.

Elsewhere, in northern Utah, about 10 homes were destroyed when a wildfire raced through the community of Willow Springs late Friday.

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