For the week of July 14, 1999  thru July 20, 1999  

Range fire contained

16,000 acres burned near Picabo

Express Staff Writer

l14fire.jpg (22628 bytes)Shifting winds and the efforts of more than 200 firefighters combined to spare Picabo from a range fire that began Sunday and burned over 16,000 acres before being declared contained Monday night.

There were no major injuries nor structural damage.

According to Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, the fire began about noon when a 1994 Ford pickup, northbound on state Highway 75, caught fire in its engine compartment and was parked on the shoulder of the road about four miles south of Timmerman Hill. The flames spread to dry brush along the side of the road and quickly roared off to the northeast, Femling said.

Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said the cause of the fire in the truck has not been determined, but that it was probably electrical. He said the truck was destroyed.

Lassman said firefighters from his department responded to the scene by 12:36 p.m. with two engines and a water tanker. He said that fanned by strong winds, the flames in the grass and sagebrush had reached about 15 feet high.

Lassman said firefighters concentrated on protecting a lone house in the path of the flames at Spud Patch Flat, about three miles from the highway. A group of about 10 firefighters, led by Capt. Kjell Kjellelisson made a stand at the house, foaming it down, while the flames burned around them.

"The winds had really kicked up," Lassman said. "It was moving at quite a pace."

Lassman said that because the fire was on public land, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quickly took over control of the suppression effort.

John Sabala, BLM fire support manager, said the agency sent into action 215 firefighters, 30 engines, three helicopters and two air tankers. He said the helicopters arrived from Hailey, Shoshone and Twin Falls.

Sabala said yesterday that though the blaze had been contained, most of those firefighters were still on the scene working to extinguish it.

l14fire2.jpg (11964 bytes)Lassman said Wood River Fire and Rescue people left the scene after saving the house at Spud Patch Flat, but that they and firefighters from the Carey Rural Fire District were called back in when it looked like the fire was heading toward Picabo.

He said a Carey crew patrolled U.S. Highway 20 and did "structural triage," evaluating which buildings could be saved if the fire entered the town.

Sheriff Femling said he had told his department to be prepared to order evacuations from Picabo homes if necessary.

However, the winds shifted toward the east, rather than to the northeast, and the threat to Picabo subsided.

"The fire did kind of creep over some of the hills, but I don’t believe the city of Picabo suffered any damage," Lassman said.

Bellevue rancher Clyde Molyneux said two of his cowboys, Rick Walt and Greg Van Der Meulen, drove 88 pairs of cows and calves off the range and away from the path of the fire.

"The fire was lapping at their butts as they come over with the last pair," Molyneux said. "And that’s no fooling."

Molyneux said that although he won’t be able to graze the area for two years, the fire will be of long-term benefit to the range by promoting lusher plant growth.

"It’ll help the wildlife and the cattle out there," he said.

Yesterday, the BLM declared the fire hazard on forested and range lands in southern Idaho to be "extreme."


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