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Firefighters turn corner against blaze menacing Idaho ski resort

People look at a map of the fire as flames leap at the Beaver Creek wildfire outside Hailey, Idaho August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
People look at a map of the fire as flames leap at the Beaver Creek wildfire outside Hailey, Idaho August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Firefighters battling a wildfire near the world-class Idaho ski resort of Sun Valley appeared to turn a corner against the massive blaze on Wednesday, helped by cooler weather and more humidity in the air.

Containment of a blaze that has menaced multimillion-dollar houses and pumped thick smoke into a mountain valley known for its scenic views rose to 30 percent on Wednesday from 9 percent the day before.

The so-called Beaver Creek fire has destroyed one home and seven other buildings and forced the evacuation of thousands of area residents since it was sparked by lightning two weeks ago.

"We are cautiously optimistic. But we still have respect for the fire and realize things could change," said fire information officer Shawna Hartman.

Fire officials said if weather conditions like higher humidity levels and lower temperatures kept favoring firefighting efforts, the blaze could be contained by as much as 50 percent by the end of the week.

The fire is among dozens of wildfires burning across Western states that have strained U.S. Forest Service resources at a time when federal budget cuts known as sequestration reduced by 500 the number of the agency's seasonal firefighters, Forest Service officials said.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise raised to the maximum level on Tuesday an index that weighs the heightened demand for fire crews and equipment like helicopters against the limited supply available during large Western fires in such states as Idaho, Oregon and Utah.

The Idaho blaze near Sun Valley has charred 108,000 acres of sagebrush, shrub lands and pine and spruce forests in the Sawtooth Mountains west of Sun Valley and two other nearby tourist towns that make up a resort region in central Idaho where land and properties are valued at $8 billion.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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