Little Queens Fire threatens, but residents in Atlanta, Idaho, stay to fight

  • The 35 permanent residents of Atlanta, Idaho, got a mandatory evacuation
  • A wildfire is creeping closer to their isolated mountain community
  • Except for the elderly and those susceptible to smoke, residents stayed to fight
  • Wildfires continue to threaten that town and other Idaho communities

By Mayra Cuevas

(CNN) -- As two major wildfires scorched pristine mountain areas in Idaho on Monday, two dozen or so residents of one tiny town ignored a mandatory evacuation to take a stand against the fiery fury of nature.

"Anytime they want to go, they can go, but you have to know these folks here," Gene Haught, fire chief in the isolated mountain community of Atlanta, Idaho, said Monday after he issued a mandatory evacuation order for the town's 35 permanent residents.

"About 70% of the residents have stayed behind to help."

Haught called for evacuation after a blaze dubbed the Little Queens Fire more than tripled in size from 2,000 acres on Sunday to 7,000 acres. But only the elderly and those susceptible to the smoke left. The rest, the fire chief said, stayed.

"What we are doing mainly is looking at areas that might be a problem and cleaning those up. As equipment arrives, we are going to help deploy it to do some structure protection," Haught said Monday.

Residents also used their own earth-moving equipment to cut a fire line around the town.

Not far away, the larger Beaver Creek fire continued scorching Idaho's Sun Valley, devouring more than 104,000 acres by late Monday and threatening some 5,000 residences -- some of them second homes for celebrities.

Lightning ignited that fire more than two weeks ago. Over the weekend, firefighters benefited from cloud cover and higher humidity. But they only managed to establish 9% control by early Monday morning.

The immediate forecast brought both good and bad news -- thunderstorms promised some rain, but those storms also threatened to produce more lightning and potentially more fires

Boise National Forest spokesman David Olson warned that the Little Queens fire was a mere four miles northwest of the community of Atlanta.

"It made about a one-mile push toward the community late (Sunday) afternoon," Olson said.

On Monday, firefighting crews joined Atlanta residents with six engines, two 20-person crews, one bulldozer and two helicopters.

Fire Chief Haught was hopeful with the additional help, they would be able to save their town.

"We have been very fortunate the weather has been in our favor. The fire hasn't grown that much in the last few hours. The weather is cooperating with us right now but that could change in a minutes notice," he said.

Atlanta, Idaho, is a historic mountain town located about 135 miles northeast of Boise. The community, which includes many second homes, is surrounded by the Boise National Forest. It was founded during the Civil War as a mining community -- a trade that attracted Haught and his wife Julie, originally from West Virginia.

"It's beautiful," said Julie Haught, "I'll never forget the first time I came here. I thought we had mountains in West Virginia, until I came here."

For Julie Haught, Atlanta is "a different world," full of history, charm and a close-knit community.

"You got to be here, visit and see why. It is very historic. A lot of these old buildings from back in the day are still here," she said, not wanting to think about the damage the fire would cause to the buildings in the little town she calls home.

But like its much larger namesake in the South, the Idaho town of Atlanta has risen from the ashes before.

According to Gene Haught, "The town has been wiped down by fire a couple of times in the 1800s and early in the 1900s."

His wife prays it won't come to that.

"I would miss all the beauty of what we got left. We are hoping and praying the fire doesn't come to this town," she said, "I have seen the destruction to other parts of the town. It will be really heartbreaking if it ends up looking like other burned down areas in the forest."

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