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For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Timmerman arson case typically tough

Rankin fire near Sunbeam contained


BLM law enforcement official Monte White said the typical wildland arsonist could be someone who either didn’t make the cut for a firefighting squad or needs money he or she could earn by helping to fight the fire he or she set.


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

An investigation into an intentionally set wildfire at Timmerman Hill has yielded no leads or suspects, investigators reported yesterday.

A Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft were called in to quell the Timmerman Hill blaze, which threatened nearby ranches on Tuesday of last week. By day’s end more than 900 acres burned. Express photo by David N. Seelig

 

The wildfire, which consumed 900 acres of grass and sagebrush on the southeast corner of the Timmerman intersection last Tuesday, was almost immediately ruled an arson case by U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) law enforcement officer Monte White.

Finding a suspect is proving difficult, not uncommon in arson investigations.

White said he found the device which he believes started the fire. He has declined to disclose it.

"We’re reaching for straws right now," White said in a telephone conversation from his Shoshone office. "The key will be if anybody sees something."

White and two other arson investigators are responsible for the BLM’s Upper Snake River District, which covers an area from Mountain Home to Salmon. The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office is helping with the Timmerman Junction investigation, though Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said the BLM is taking the lead.

The Timmerman fire was one of three recent Snake River Plain fires for which the causes are likely arson, White said.

He believes the three fires may have been started by the same person or persons, and if the act is repeated, eyewitnesses could help lead to the capture of the arsonist or arsonists.

The three arson cases are the only ones in the state this summer, according to authorities.

"We’re really good at finding what started the fires, but it’s tough to find a suspect," White said.

In the case of the Timmerman fire, White found a device he said was used to set the blaze. Similar devices were found at a fire near East Magic on Aug. 14 and at one the same day near Stanton Crossing on Highway 20, he said.

Typically, in an arson case, law enforcement agencies won’t immediately disclose the details of a suspected arson device during the course of an investigation.

According to the BLM’s statewide law enforcement chief, Joe Leaf, there were three fires near Boise earlier this summer attributed to abandoned campfires and therefore considered arson-set. They were extinguished.

Southern Idaho’s national forests haven’t experienced any suspected arson cases this summer, said Steve Lipus, law enforcement officer for the Boise, Sawtooth and Payette national forests.

White said the typical wildland arsonist could be someone who either didn’t make the cut for a firefighting squad or needs money he or she could earn by helping to fight the fire he or she set.

"Sometimes they’ll be the first on the scene and want to be involved. Also, a lot of them are grudge fires," he said.

But more than that, he said, arsonists probably derive some sort of twisted joy at seeing their work manifested in full-fledged flames.

"I really feel it’s the excitement of setting big fires," he said.

#

A fire in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness Area consumed 21 of 29 structures at the Pistol Creek Ranch on Saturday. The ranch is near the confluence of Pistol Creek and the Middle Fork.

According to a Salmon/Challis National Forest press release, those who were staying at the ranch had been ordered to evacuate the area last week, and no one is believed to have been in the area when the fire roared through.

Seventeen of the burned structures were seasonal residences, four were outbuildings.

According to the press release, the fire ran approximately six miles Saturday, crossed the Middle Fork and moved uphill to the east, into the Pistol Creek drainage. By Sunday, the latest estimate available yesterday, the fire had consumed 52,000 acres.

Twelve fires in the wilderness area were still burning yesterday and had consumed 155,300 acres.

#

The Rankin Creek Fire near Sunbeam was 100 percent contained by firefighters at 5 p.m. on Monday, Salmon/Challis fire information officer Dave Killebrew said in an interview yesterday.

The fire had posed threats to the towns of Sunbeam, Bonanza and Custer and consumed a total of 6,710 acres, he said.

"The weather was helping out somewhat with the lack of heavy winds we had earlier," Killebrew said, adding that "we got a little lucky."

The Trail Creek Fire near Atlanta had not moved considerably in the past week as of yesterday, and fire information officer Maggie Dowd said full containment could be achieved in the next few days.

The fire has burned 23,900 acres, and the most active front continues to be on the west. The fire has not advanced on the northeast or southeast fronts and is completely out near Atlanta.

Dowd said Middle Fork Road, which accesses Atlanta, is still closed, pending full containment of the fire.

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On Sunday, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne extended a state emergency proclamation for an additional 30 days because of many still-active fires. The initial emergency proclamation, signed by Kempthorne on July 27, expired Sunday.

"The reports from the fire lines, as well as the weather reports, tell us that we have at least several more weeks of work before we can hope to get the upper hand on most of these fires," Kempthorne said in a press release.

Throughout August, the state’s emergency declaration has allowed state resources to help federal and local officials fight these fires and provide assistance to affected communities, Kempthorne said.

"We will definitely need to continue this cooperation and coordination in September, which is why I’m extending the state of emergency for another 30 days," he said.

In order to draw upon state resources, however, county governments must have first declared a state of emergency because of wildfire conditions. Once they have declared an emergency, they can contact the state’s Bureau of Disaster Services to obtain additional state assistance.

Blaine County, little affected by wild fires so far this summer, has not declared a state of emergency.

 

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